- Cecil Afrika’s 12 seasons in international Sevens rugby came to an end in June after his Blitzboks contract expired.
- Like Afrika, Frankie Horne narrowly missed out on the 2016 Rio Olympic Games after suffering an injury.
- The Covid-19 affected 2020 Tokyo Games were meant to be Afrika’s perfect swansong.
- "It wasn’t meant to be," said Horne about his own disappointment.
Blitzboks legend Frankie Horne says it is sad to see Cecil Afrika, who was set to bow out gracefully in Tokyo this year, miss out on the Olympic Games because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Games getting moved to 2021 all but robbed Afrika, considered by many as South Africa’s greatest Sevens player ever, of a chance to try win gold for the Springbok Sevens team in Tokyo.
The 32-year-old’s contract came to an end this winter and was not renewed, with the Blitzboks aiming to blood the new wave of promising younger players for the Games.
Afrika, whose last season was blighted by injury, called time on his career as a result and stepped down from international Sevens rugby, although it’s understood he will be on standby next year if needed, and if he stays in playing shape for the next 11 months.
"It’s sad. I always say to the guys, you’re always one tackle away from the end of your career," said Horne.
"I’ve known Cecil since he was 17, from around 2005. He’s a brilliant guy and a brilliant player who plays with a lot of passion and dedication to the green and gold.
"I know how much he struggled with injuries and it’s sad that the pandemic has pulled the carpet underneath him.
"He’s still a phenomenal player in his own right, but because of the youngsters that are coming through, he probably wasn’t going to be a permanent fixture.
"But he’s not the only one; there’s a lot of athletes in different codes and teams who will never get that opportunity. Some of them have put in a whole four years into it and might not get a chance, or they might be a bit old."
Horne can empathise with Afrika, after he missed out on rugby’s return to the Olympics in 2016, following the sport's 92-year absence from the Games.
Horne was cast in iron to make the team before an ankle injury in the season leading up to the Rio Games meant he had to scramble to recover ahead of time, but fell just short because he lacked the adequate game time.
In Brazil, South Africa, led by Afrika, went on to finish on the podium, getting bronze, while Great Britain took silver and Fiji took gold.
Horne, however, said he never let the disappointment get him down.
"The 2015/16 season, when I was trying to crack it to the Olympics, was probably the fittest I’ve ever been," he said.
"And because I had a lot of tournaments under my belt, I wasn’t going to play the first two tournaments that year, as the coaching staff were trying to rotate the squad.
"I led an Academy squad to Chile and that’s where I picked up that ankle injury. It was a bit of a bitter pill to swallow, but I can’t say I was robbed. My recovery window was just too long, even though I cut it from six months into four.
"I couldn’t get enough game time on the circuit and I only had one tournament to try and crack the nod, which just wasn’t enough. I was not bleak, though. I was on the standby group and I was happy for the guys that made it and they played well.
"I made a good run for it but, unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be."