South Africa will sport Madiba-inspired shirts at Cape Town sevens, writes Oliver Pickup
Blitzboks keen to inspire nation like Nelson Mandela, says Cecil Afrika
The late, great Nelson Mandela will be front of mind at Cape Town Stadium this weekend, where the second round of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series takes place – not least because the host country’s players will be wearing special-edition shirts inspired by the former South African president.
The unique green-and-gold jerseys, designed as part of the Mandela 100 initiative to mark what would have been his 100th year, have a striking pattern that includes the protea flower (the symbol of sport in South Africa) and jumping springboks, influenced by the bright and colourful ‘Madiba’ shirts he wore.
The outside of the collar shows the Nelson Mandela 100 logo, while the inside features the quote “sport has the power to change the world” – a famous quote by Mandela from 1995, after the Boks World Cup win. Only 527 of the Madiba shirts have been made, and the first 27 have been handed to members of the Blitzboks squad.
Earlier in the week, the 16 captains of the countries competing in the Cape Town Sevens visited Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars, before the fall of apartheid.
Cecil Afrika, the country’s all-time point-scorer – having amassed 1,430 hitherto, he has the fifth most in history – believes wearing the Madiba shirt will boost the home side’s chances of victory this weekend.
The 30-year old, who is currently nursing a hamstring injury, but is on track to return to action early in the New Year, told Rugby World: “It is very, very special. I can’t really put it into words. It shows the legacy (Mandela) he has left in our country. Hopefully the boys can go out on the Cape Town Stadium pitch and inspire people, and give them hope.”
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Afrika, named sevens player of the year in 2011, is committed to helping grow the game, and on Wednesday attended a HSBC-Tag Rugby camp in Cape Town where “over 200” youngsters enjoyed an introductory session. “It’s a phenomenal way to teach the guys about rugby,” he said. “It’s about identifying space, creating space, and it is a great initiative to allow the kids to enjoy themselves while understanding rugby’s bigger picture.”
He states that the success of national team – overall winners of the last two HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series – will encourage more South African youngsters to pick up a ball and try out the sport.
Victory this weekend, at a sold-out Cape Town Stadium, which holds 55,000 people, will certainly help capture youngsters imaginations. However, somewhat surprisingly, it’s now been three years since Neil Powell’s team triumphed on home soil, in the inaugural event. New Zealand were crowned champions last time, as the Blitzboks claimed the plate, and in 2016 Powell’s side were edged out 19-17 by England in the final.
Following an under-par, sixth-placed finish in Dubai last weekend, the South Africans will have to improve considerably if they are to make it third time lucky in Cape Town, especially with Pool A also containing All Blacks Sevens, Samoa and Zimbabwe. Afrika urged the crowd to play their part and roar on the hosts.
“As a South African sevens player, you only get one opportunity a year to play in front of your home crowd, your family, friends, and loved ones,” he said. “You just want to go out there and make them proud. It’s an unbelievable atmosphere when you play in front of your home crowd, with people screaming your name, making noise.”
He added: “It just gives you that extra motivation to get up off the ground, track someone, make a tackle, and keep on playing. Ultimately without their support none of us would have been where we are today.”
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If, come Sunday evening, the South Africans, wearing their Madiba shirts, manage to finish on top, it will trigger an almighty celebration in Cape Town – and, given the circumstances, who would bet against Powell’s side?