Retiring Blitzboks player Cecil Afrika has opened up about how he has evolved as a leader within the team, writes DYLAN JACK.
Afrika’s 12-year career with the Blitzboks will come to an end this week after it was mutually agreed that his contract with the team won’t be extended when it expires on 1 July.
In 2009, Afrika joined the Springbok Sevens from the Griffons as a shy, softly-spoken 21-year-old, but very quickly became a member of the core leadership team under coach Neil Powell.
In an interview for the latest SA Rugby magazine, Afrika discussed how he embraced his shyness and how his role as the team’s playmaker allowed him to slot in seamlessly as a leader.
‘When I came into the team – I am an introvert if I can put it that way – I am quite shy because I stutter,’ Afrika said. ‘But I had to embrace that and the guys accepted me for who I am and how I speak. That really gave me the confidence to say what I needed to say. My role in the team needed me to speak more.
‘My role was to make sure that everybody understands the plan and I tried to make sure that we execute that plan. I had to make sure that whether you are a Kwagga Smith, Seabelo Senatla or Werner Kok, that you understood the plan that the coach wanted us to execute. Sometimes I had to shout at senior players – even if I was only there for two or three years. But they knew it wasn’t personal. It was just about making sure that we all understand our roles and responsibilities in the team.
‘My role allowed me to slot in easily as a leader. For me personally, it was important that everybody understood what their role was and what the outcomes are. If everyone knows what is required of them, it will be easier for everybody.
‘I took it pretty personally if we didn’t play well,’ Afrika added. ‘I would be disappointed in myself because I felt I didn’t do my job as a senior player in making sure the players next to me understood their roles clearly.’
Despite having their 2020 season marred by the coronavirus pandemic, the Springbok Sevens team is set for an important next two years – with the postponed Tokyo Olympic Games scheduled for July 2021 and the Sevens World Cup on home soil in Cape Town in 2022.
Apart from Afrika, the team has also lost to retirement other experienced members in former captains Kyle Brown and Philip Snyman. However, Afrika backed the systems that had been put in place under Powell and high-performance sevens manager Marius Schoeman to continue the team’s success in the future.
‘I think Springbok Sevens rugby is in good hands, especially with the academy set-up and the leadership of coach Neil Powell and Marius Schoeman,’ Afrika said. ‘They have a great system going there.
‘It’s just up to the players to buy into the plan and make sure that they understand their roles and responsibilities. They must be willing to learn and accept criticism not as something bad but as something good. They need to be disciplined and hard on each other to make sure that we can be better and fly the South African flag high.’
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images