Ahead of the second leg of Rugby Tens Championship action in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Residing at the prestigious Stellenbosch Academy of Sport [SAS], while the facility is entirely new to a number of players, there are some who are well-acquainted with the centre of excellence.
Opened in 2012, SAS has served as the home of the Springboks Sevens team and has its own rugby programs too. Professional soccer side, Stellenbosch Football Club, also operate out of the high-performance centre, while also catering to an even wider array of sports.
While the Rugby Tens Championship has an array of players from 25 different nations, a number amongst its ranks have spent plenty of time honing their talents at the SAS while representing the Springboks Sevens team.
Amongst those in that camp is Cecil Afrika. An 11-year stalwart of the Blitzboks, with most recent selection for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town, Cecil is back in Stellenbosch now as an assistant coach for the Cape Town Wild Dogs.
“It is great to be back at SAS,” Afrika said. “It is the place of champions.
“It is associated with a lot of different sports. There is a soccer team here, a rugby team; it is nice to interact with different sports coaches and learn how they think about their individual sports and what motivates them.
“It is great to be back, and it is nice to see similar faces, talk to them and crack a couple of jokes.
“I wouldn’t say great memories, I would say tough memories. Some days training would start at 06:00 and you would get back to your room at 18:00.
“The days would have been long, but very fruitful. We made some beautiful memories and some sad ones. But I am truly grateful to have spent a lot of time here and learnt a lot about the game over these years.
“Hopefully, I can share some of these memories with the players, and hopefully they can end up achieving what they want to in life. Whether it is a professional rugby player or a doctor or whatever.
“I am just grateful to be here and share my stories with them, to show where we had meetings or video sessions. Those are the kind of memories I am sharing with the team.”
Frankie Horne is intimately aware of his surroundings. He, like his former teammate Afrika, knows many of the staff at the facility by name.
Along with having been a player, Horne also served as SAS’s Head of Sevens for a number of years before becoming the Head of Sevens Program at Rhinos Rugby based in San Clemente, USA. The 39-year-old was also appointed as the head coach of the San Clemente Rhinos women’s side in the Rugby Tens Championship.
Put on the same level as the men’s teams in the competition, the Rugby Tens Championship is offering some players from Tier 2 and 3 rugby playing nations to be exposed to this level of high-performance facility for the first time in their careers to date.
“It has been good to be back,” Horne said. “It is lovely to see the old staff, old people I used to work with and old colleagues. Knowing the infrastructure and the setup, it is a wonderful place.
“It is really, really good; if not, the best in the world. The staff is very professional, people are trying to help. It makes life easy. Our players here, to introduce them to something like that, where rugby is a culture, it’s big.
“People value the Rugby Tens Championship, and for the locals here to see what we are trying to do with girls and women, it is amazing that the buy-in has been good. They like what they see, and they are all for it. The support has been great.”
On the walls of the facility, there are the signatures of the players that have called the four walls home for a time, the freshest batch of those from the numerous nations who prepared for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in the Winelands just several weeks ago.
Not only can legends be seen coaching sides, but they are also in the commentary box and on the field. Kyle Brown is one such player bringing his years of experience to the broadcast alongside Chris Dry, the now retired players watching on as former teammate Ryno Benjamin returns to the field at 38, alongside English commentary stalwarts Rob Vickerman and Kat Merchant.
Both current and former women’s Blitzboks are also on show. Marithy Pienaar, Mathrin Simmers, Shona-Leah Weston and Nomsa Mokwai will all be taking to the field, showcasing their talents for the first time on an equal footing with their male counterparts.
One player who will be back in the Springbok Sevens fold after the conclusion of the Rugby Tens Championship this weekend is Branco du Preez. A 12-year veteran of the side, the 32-year-old is representing the San Clemente Rhinos before going back to SAS to be under the guidance of new Blitzboks head coach, Sandile Ngcobo.
On home territory as far as he is concerned when it comes to playing at Danie Craven, Du Preez is hoping for better luck with his Rhinos teammates, who, under the guidance of rugby sevens legend Waisale Serevi, finished 4th in the Pretoria Cup.
“Pretoria was a good venue, but coming back to your hometown is an advantage,” Du Preez said. “I think it is going to be a good one this weekend. I am really looking forward to this weekend.
“It is awesome to see the [Blitzbok] boys. But for now, I am with the Rhinos. Next week I will be back with the Sevens. I am really looking forward Todd it.
“We had some great moments last weekend. We just need to turn it into points and let the ball do the work for us. We have a lot of opportunities and to put points on the board.”
You will be able to see all these Blitzbok greats and plenty more on the field and on the touchline this weekend at Danie Craven Stadium.
You can watch the games for free HERE or by purchasing a ticket on the gate of the historic Danie Craven Stadium for R50.
Media release issued by Terras Communications on behalf of Rugby Tens Championship