- Cecil Afrika’s stellar career as an SA Sevens international has possibly come to an end.
- The flyhalf dropped down the pecking order in coach Neil Powell’s Blitzboks team after two injury-hampered seasons.
- Afrika is South Africa’s all-time leading points-scorer and is regarded as the country’s version of Fijian legend Waisale Serevi.
South African Sevens star Cecil Afrika could miss out on next year’s postponed Tokyo Olympic Games after, surprisingly, not being offered a new Blitzboks contract for next season.
The 32-year-old was meant to have his swansong at this year’s Olympics, but the Covid-19 pandemic caused havoc with the global sporting calendar, resulting in the Games getting postponed to 2021.
SA Sevens high-performance manager Marius Schoeman confirmed to Sport24 that Afrika’s contract would not be renewed for another season and that the Blitzbok legend was informed of the fact a year ago.
"Cecil, unfortunately, has been injured during the last two years quite a bit," said Schoeman.
"About a year ago we communicated to him that his contract will only be up to the end of the Olympics. He knew it was his last year.
"Myself and [head coach] Neil Powell discussed it quite intensely and it was not a decision I made alone as high-performance manager. He wasn’t just contributing on the field but off it as well by sharing all his knowledge with the young players, which made it tough for us.
"He did great for the last bit but he was not our No 1 flyhalf anymore - for the past few years already. He played, I think, two tournaments this year but last year he was mostly injured. Despite that, Cecil was a great servant for Sevens and he did so well.
"[But] with the whole Covid-19 pandemic and the Olympics being moved, unfortunately, it’s not a great year for many rugby players."
Afrika is considered by many as South Africa’s Waisale Serevi, the greatest Sevens player that ever lived. He’s been part of all three South African HSBC World Sevens Series titles since beginning his career the year the Springbok Sevens first won it in 2009.
In 2011, he was voted the IRB Sevens international player-of-the-year, the first South African to win the award since it was first handed out in 2004. His list of accolades during his 11-year career include a gold medal from the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
In 2014 he became SA’s top Sevens point-scorer, breaking the record at his home town tournament, the Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens, in Port Elizabeth.
"Cecil has obviously contributed massively to Springbok Sevens. Unfortunately, we all get older and some players are not first-choice anymore," said Schoeman.
"We have to start investing in youth because we’ve got the Sevens World Cup and the Commonwealth Games in 2022. We have to take a lot of things into consideration such as performance, age and injuries when it comes to player selection going forward.
"Sometimes you have to make that harsh call and invest in new, young players.
"If he decides to play on somewhere and gets into good form and is not injured, we could still invite him to a pre-Olympic camp. We will never turn our backs on players. I’m sure Neil will give him an opportunity to prove himself."
Afrika’s last involvement with the team came in Vancouver, Canada - the last tournament before the HSBC World Sevens Series was halted - where South Africa finished fourth.
It’s so far unclear when or if the Sevens World Series will resume from the 2019-20 season or if the past season will be chalked off or concluded at the current standings. The SA men’s team was stranded in second place, 11 points behind leaders New Zealand and 21 ahead of Fiji in third.
Schoeman added: "Even though the player knows the bad news, it’s always gonna be tough when the date arrives.
"It was the same thing in my day. You know you’re gonna be done but it’s still hard and you think you can still play another year. The same thing applied to Kyle Brown, Frankie Horne and all of them.
"Sevens is a family and it’s tough to let go. I can imagine how hard it must be for players to leave the system. I’m not sure if he’s still going to play 15’s or goes into coaching but we will support him and wish him all the best."