Cape Town – He has travelled the globe, scored more than 1200 career points and won tournaments with the Springbok Sevens team all over the world, but getting on the plane with the team for yet another possible title, still excites Cecil Afrika tremendously.
The 29-year old playmaker will reach a milestone in Hong Kong next weekend as he plays in his 50th HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournament – something he admits, he thought would never happen after a serious knee injury picked up at the same venue four years ago.
“A couple of years back I picked up a bad injury in Hong Kong,” Afrika said before the Blitzboks departed to Hong Kong via Johannesburg for the seventh tournament of the 2017 World Series.
“Such was the extent of the injury I was told that I would be lucky to get another year out of rugby. Luckily it turned out that the injury was not that bad, and here I am going back to the same venue to play in my 50th tournament. In a way, it is a bittersweet feeling because I thought my career was over when I got injured there, and now I will reach a tournament milestone at the same venue,” he smiled.
Only Frankie Horne (68), Chris Dry (58), Kyle Brown (57) and Branco du Preez (51) have achieved this feat.
Afrika, the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year in 2011, is again in great form and keen to help the team win the HSBC Cathay Pacific Hong Kong title, something they have not achieved since the start of the World Series way back in 1999.
“We can only go out and do our best. We had some good results at other venues, but this one keeps eluding us. We will be keen to change that,” Afrika said.
Of making his 50th tournament appearance at this iconic venue, he said. “Ideally, I would have loved to play my 50th in Port Elizabeth in front of my home crowd, but it does not always work like that. Hong Kong’s atmosphere is amazing, so I will enjoy the fact that I have achieved something special in a venue like that,” said Afrika.
Every time Afrika scores a try or kicks a conversion, he extends his South African career points’ scoring record. “I don’t keep adding those up when I play. I am pretty pleased every time I score points for the team, as it means we have done something right and I have contributed. That is what it is about, not my records,” he said.
Afrika (hamstring) is one of a number of players who was in doubt to make it to Hong Kong, as injuries piled up following the tournaments in Las Vegas and Vancouver last month. Ruhan Nel (ankle), Chris Dry (knee) and Branco du Preez (pectoral muscle) were all cleared to travel on Friday, something Springbok Sevens coach, Neil Powell, admits was not ideal.
“We did not prepare the way we wanted to, as we had to look after some injured players as well as try to improve on our general play. I am still pretty confident in the ability of the squad though, and I think we can give a good account of ourselves, despite the fact that our preparation was not as smooth as usual. This tournament will also provide a solid opportunity for some of the younger guys in the squad and I am keen to see how they progress,” Powell said.
The Springbok Sevens team will face France on Friday and Kenya and Japan on Saturday respectively in the pool stages of the competition.