Melrose 7s preview: star-studded Co-Optimists face stiff competition against strong field at the Greenyards

South African legend Cecil Afrika says he jumped at the opportunity to return to Scotland

South African sevens legend Cecil Afrika training with the Co-Optimists at the Greenyards earlier this week. Imag: Rób Gray.
South African sevens legend Cecil Afrika training with the Co-Optimists at the Greenyards earlier this week. Imag: Rób Gray.

CECIL AFRIKA has had previous sevens success in Scotland, so it is no surprise to hear that the South African legend is excited to be back and cannot wait to turn out for the Co-Optimists when the world famous Melrose tournament returns after two years of Covid tomorrow [Saturday].

The 34-year-old arrived in the Borders earlier this week and on Thursday he put some local youngsters through their paces during a specially arranged training session on The Greenyards pitch.

Later that day he was across the road at the Gibson Pavilion where he was inducted into the Jackson Distillers Hall of Fame, recognising his amazing career which came to an end at the top level in 2020.


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His overall record in the abbreviated format of the game speaks for itself, He scored 1,462 points on the World Sevens Series over the years, which currently has him in seventh place on the all-time scorers list on the men’s circuit.

Eleven years ago, he played in an amazing final the last time a World Series event was held in Scotland at Murrayfeld, South Africa overcoming Australia 36-35 in one of the all-time classic ties.

And eight years ago, he was at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow picking up a Commonwealth Games gold medal with his country when they got the better of New Zealand 17-12 in the final.

“I have fond memories of playing in Scotland from both those competitions for sure, that is why it is so good to be back here now,” Afrika, who also went to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010 and the Rio Olympics in 2016, said.

“That final against Australia was just one of the most amazing games I ever played in back in 2011. We were behind 35-19 with about 90 seconds left and somehow we managed to score three tries and two conversions in that period to win the match in quite a dramatic way!

“Indeed, it was even more a remarkable win when you consider that we only had eight or nine fit bodies for the final after a tough weekend and then lost some more in the early part of the game.

“It meant we only had seven players left, but we dug in to get the victory and although we did not win the overall series in 2010-11 [they were runners-up to New Zealand], it was still a good year for me because I was top try scorer, top points scorer and was named the IRB [now World Rugby] sevens player of the year.

“And at Ibrox a few years later the atmosphere was brilliant and we became the first team ever to win a gold at the Commonwealth Games in men’s sevens apart from New Zealand. That was a very special feeling and it is a medal I really cherish.”

 

Given his fond memories of playing in Scotland, the Co-Optimists were pushing at an open door when they decided he was a player who could add some stardust to their squad for tomorrow’s Melrose Sevens return after two years of Covid cancellations.

“I know Scott Wight from the days when we used to play against each other on the World Series circuit, we get on well, so when he got in touch to tell me he was coaching a team called the Co-Optimists and asked me if I wanted to come to Melrose and play of course I jumped at the chance,” Afrika explains.

“Scott and myself had some memorable battles on the pitch when South Africa took on Scotland back in the day, so now I am looking forward to him being my coach this weekend and seeing what we can do.

“In terms of the Melrose Sevens, I have heard all about the history and I know that sevens started in Scotland, so I am blessed to be here.

“One of my good friends, Tythan Adams, also has a lot of good things to say about the tournament because he played well here in 2017 [starring for Selkirk and then being drafted into the Melrose squad as they finished runners-up to Harlequins in the final], so hopefully I can follow in his footsteps.

“Sevens is such a fun game and I hear that a big crowd will be at the ground at the weekend. We are obviously a team that has just got to know each other in the last couple of days, but there are some quality players here and we will give it our best shot, play with a smile on our faces and try and entertain the spectators.”

With Afrika set to be joined in the Co-Ops ranks this weekend by the likes of Kenyan Collins Injera – who is eighth on the all-time World Series points scorers list – ex-English XVs cap and joint leading try-scorer in Premiership history Tom Varndell, Edinburgh Rugby flyer Freddie Owsley, and his club team-mates James Johnstone and Jack Blain, they have to be in the running to win the event.

The last time the Co-Ops did that was in 1993 when the likes of Doddie Weir and Gregor Townsend were involved. They play Kelso in the first round at 12.10pm. The tournament kicks off with Glasgow Hawks taking on Musselburgh at 10.50am.

Tickets are still available HERE.

Squads –

MELROSE (Yellow & Black): C Fairbairn, P Anderson, Donald Crawford, S Hutchison, Douglas Colvine, D Crawford, A Cross, R Chalmers, K Clark, H Weir, P Eti Slater, L Mallin. Coaches: B Grigg/G Dodds/B Ruthven.

CURRIE (Amber & Black): F Scott, C Lessels, S Hamilton, C Meager, R Davies, D Innes, W Nelson, G Nelson, F Sayers, C Brett, J McCaig, m Bradshaw. Coach: F Scott.

JED-FOREST (Royal Blue & White): D Buckley, F Scott, G Young, G Munro, L Walker, R  Marshall, L Young, R Yourston, E Stewart, N Stingl, R  Shirra Gibb, K Hayes. Coach: D Grieve.

EDINBURGH ACCIES (Sky Blue & White): R Campbell, N Armstrong, H Janes, B Grainger, R Mill, R Kent, B  Appleson, F Simpson, M Walker, W Stephen, R Lyall, A Inwood. Coach: G Bonner.

GALA (Maroon & White): F Johnston, L Johnston, M Wilson, M Reid, A Mitchell, G McCrum, S Peffers, T McKavanagh, H Rutherford, B Gill, R Todd, G Dunn. Coach: S Johnson.

GLASGOW HAWKS (Red & White): R Campbell, R Chisholm, L Stewart, S Greig, M Stewart, R Joy, C Kennedy, P Keenan, Y Ala-gilly, J Thompson, I Totic, C Sreenan. Coach: B McGroarty.

SELKIRK (Blue, Red & White): A  Grant-Suttie, S McClymont, R Cook, R Nixon, S Clark, C Anderson, A McColm, E McVicker, J Hamilton, R Cottrell, F Anderson, K Brown. Coach: S. Wight.

GHA (Red & Green): C Lonergan, N Kelly, C Armstrong, W Graham, S Plumridge, J Bruce, G  Baird, A Goudie, S Derrick, M Macfarlane. Coach: A. Gillman.

HAWICK (Green): S Frizzel, T Huggan, R McKean, Glen Welsh, Gareth Welsh, D Lightfoot, B Donaldson, J Delaney, E  Stanger, C Riddel, M  Tait, C Sutherland. Coach: M. Douglas.

ABERDEEN (Red & Navy): C Buchan, D Russell, S Knudson, C Hunter, C Shepherd, P Mulholland, P Ritchie, B Renton, T Aplin, B Perrigualt, M Running, A Fitzgerald. Coach: N Coe/ G Ryan.

KELSO (Black & White): F Robson, C Thompson, K Melbourne, A Tait, D Paterson, M Wilson, A Roberts, G Cessford, B Lyall, R Tweedie. Coach: B McNeil.

MUSSELBURGH (Blue & White): M Crawford, J Ferguson, R Watt, D Owenson, M Cimprich, S Watt, T Foley, J Crain, C Pryde, A Spence, K Adams, R Smith. Coach: A. Clark.

PEEBLES (Red & White): J Dow, B  Davidson, R Harrison, R Tompson, D Collins, J Harrison, H Barber, N Pate, M Brown, D Anderson, F Maciver, P Cannon. Coach: C. Anderson.

MARR (Purple & Amber): S Bickerstaff, G Baird, A Johnston, G Paxton, C Inglis, C Sturgeon, G Beckwith, R Brown, J Scott, M O’Sullivan, S Broad, N Calder. Coach: K Diffffenthal.

WATSONIANS (Maroon): S Allison, C Henderson, B Young, F Cousin, B Morris, M Wilson, F Jacobs, J Stove, M McMillan, R  Hastie, A Davidson, C Bell. Coach: C Sharman/J Riley.

HERIOTS (White & Blue): L Gordon, P Burns, T McLeod, M Oliver, L Marshall, M McSorley, C Elliot, E Revill, N Henry, H Morris. Coach: P Smith.

BOROUGHMUIR (Blue & Green): A Wilson, G  Alexander, J Stewart, S McDowall, I Martin, P Atkinson, J King, C Anderson, C Hogg, S McKenzie, C Marjoribanks, M Luff. Coach: P Wood.

STIRLING COUNTY (Red, White & Black): C Macpherson, L Burns, T Quigley, A Shaw, D Tomanek, H Cameron Barr 7. M. Heron, B Salmond, C Beckett, K Singleton, J Halliday, E Curran. Coach: P McCartin.

AYR (Pink & Black): J Mclauchlan, S Collier, E Hamilton, C Wood, S Watson, R Simpson, F Thomson, C Young, H Lynch, J Bova, M Zimmerman, Z Howard. Coach: F Climo.

GUEST TEAMS:

CO-OPTIMISTS (Blue & White): L Nela, Q Kota, T Varndell, J Johnstone, O Melville, T Pretorius, J Blain, F Callaghan, J Murphy, C Afrika, C Injera, A Purewal. Coach: S Wight/S. Lewis.

SEVENTISE (FRANCE) (White & Multicolour): F Makaia, A Chaumont, M Guiborat, A Poussin, T Cazedepats, M Blanc, J Linney, N Lambert, L Ritter, K Bourge, T Brouillard, L Mignot. Coach: B Laufer.

LOMAIVITI (FIJI) (Green, Yellow & Black): J Radovu, N Drauna, D Boer, D Kirkpatrick, M Laverua, W Drova, J Nasaqa, P Tirikula, R Luke Rokomoce, J Koroi, A Bosetakalaiyale. Coach: A. Domonakibau.

BELGIUM RUGBY 7s (Black, Yellow & Red): V André, K  Caro, L De Moffffarts, T Devos, G Lalli, F Remue, T Rifon, M Bosch, L Speeckaert, V Hart,  W Van Bost.

SAMURAI RUGBY (Red, White & Black): C Marshall, J Dawe, W Hendy, F Souto, W Glover, M Reina, J Mata, O Jenkins, C Walker, C Worth, M Walsh, M McFarland. Coach: F Harkness.

LONDON SCOTTISH LIONS (ENG) (Navy, Red & White): N Callaghan, A Clogg, S Cowdy, F Dellinger, J Edwards, C Edwardson, C Hay, G Kinder, F Lyle, C  McMillan, R Parker, G Speirs. Coach: D Box.

ARMY RUGBY UNION (Red & White): U Uluivesi, P Ratukadreu, J Qalomaiwasa, M Ogunwole, A Vereimi, R Rokoduguni, L Raivalu, L Tulele, L Suluaqalo, M Navaka, I Nakoronilagi, P Graham. Coach: I Damu/J Nayacavou.

 

REFEREES: Finn Brown, Iain Heard, Ross Mabon, Sam O’Neil, Jonny Perriam, David Sutherland & Steven Turnbull.


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About Gary Heatly 238 Articles
Gary has loved rugby ever since he can remember and since 2004 he has covered the sport and others in a professional capacity for many publications and websites and runs his own company, GH Media.

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