Cecil Afrika still has the legs, says ex-Blitzboks team-mate

Cecil Afrika (Gallo Images)
Cecil Afrika (Gallo Images)
Wessel Oosthuizen
  • Cecil Afrika was one of the genuinely good guys of the sevens circuit, says former Blitzboks skipper Mpho Mbiyozo.
  • The playmaker stepped down from international sevens this month after 11 years as the fulcrum of a successful Blitzboks era.
  • Afrika left the game as SA'ss highest individual points-scorer and as the country’s most decorated ever sevens international.Covid-19 cruelly denied Afrika a last dance after this year’s Tokyo Games, meant to be his last tournament, were postponed to 2021.

Cecil Afrika's former team-mate and Blitzboks captain, Mpho Mbiyozo, believes the retired star still has the legs to make it to the postponed 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.

The 32-year-old stepped down from international sevens earlier this month but said he would be available for selection if the team needed him. This year's Games were meant to be Afrika's swansong, but the Covid-19 pandemic forced the tournament's postponement, thereby robbing one of sevens' greatest players a chance for one last dance.

Mbiyozo, who co-captained the first Blitzboks team to win the World Rugby Sevens Series in 2009, alongside now Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick, said that was the cruelty of sport.

"Not many people in the world get to walk away from something on their own terms and that’s the nature of life and sports," Mbiyozo told Sport24.

"We all want to be around as long as possible, but you never know when you're going to go. Very few walk away from sport on their own terms.

"Covid-19 obviously played a part, and I don't know what happened in the Sevens camp or what plans they've got, but in my view, he still had the legs for it.

"I've never coached sevens at such a high level ... so those guys plan long-term and you've got to do the right thing, even if it might not seem right to the public. You’ve got to make a call on what you think is good for the strength of your team.

"My mate Frankie Horne was also unlucky ahead of the previous Olympics (Rio 2016). His name was cast in stone but when it came to the Olympic year he struggled and as a result never made it. That’s sport for you, I guess."

More than anything, Mbiyozo lauded Afrika's character, saying he was one of the genuinely good guys of the game, something surpassing even his superstar achievements on the field.

"There's a saying among sports team-mates that goes: You don't remember how good a guy was as a player, you remember how good he was as a person," he said.

"I played a season with Cecil and we subsequently became friends and we talk from time to time. He's a genuinely good person and there aren't too many of those floating around.

"When I heard of his retirement, the first thing that came to my mind was, I remember this kid's first tournament.

"I remember thinking to myself, holy s**t, here's a new guy that's just stepped into the team and he’s just taken over. The more you trained with him and the better he got, you only realised how genuine of a good person he was."

Afrika bowed out after becoming South Africa's highest ever Sevens international points scorer (1  462) and having played major roles in two World Series titles (2017 and 2018) as well as Commonwealth Games gold and Olympic bronze medals.

Mbiyozo added: "Someone said Cecil Afrika was the best player they had seen in Sevens outside of Fiji and that’s one hell of a compliment. And it shows what kind of influence he’s had in the game."

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