JOHANNESBURG, December 9 – South Africa will bank on speedster Cecil Afrika to get their IRB World Sevens Series challenge back on track Friday when western Cape town George hosts the two-day second leg.
The green and gold surrendered a 14-point advantage when losing 21-19 to Fiji in a Dubai quarter-final last weekend when the eight-leg 2010-2011 championship kicked off.
England emerged as surprise victors in the Middle East, defeating Samoa 29-21 in the decider after eliminating pre-tournament favourites and Commonwealth Games gold medalists New Zealand in the semi-finals.
Now the Springboks want to steal the limelight from the English before their supporters at compact Outeniqua Park and coach Paul Treu believes leading Dubai points scorer Afrika can play a key role.
"Cecil works very hard in training and listens to advice from the management and more experienced players around him. He is an unselfish character and this makes him a good team player," the coach told reporters.
Afrika won rave reviews after scoring 10 tries before capacity 40,000 crowds in the United Arab Emirates, but deflected praise heaped on a footballer playing only his second season of sevens.
"We are one big family and I still have much to learn. I become quite embarrassed when people single out individuals because this is a team sport," admitted the 22-year-old native of eastern Cape city Port Elizabeth.
"I was just grateful to be in the right place at the right time on the field to score all those tries in the Middle East after my team-mates had done the hard work."
South Africa are top seeds in Group D which includes Portugal, who upset England 14-12 in the group phase last weekend, Argentina and Zimbabwe and should advance to the Saturday quarter-finals by filling a top-two place.
Argentina lost all three group games in Dubai while the only victory achieved by Zimbabwe was against the South Americans and Portugal will be favoured to advance with the host nation.
There will be repeats of both first-leg semi-finals at the mini-league phase with England and New Zealand in Group C beside Dubai Shield winners Kenya and Russia.
England boast Ben Gollings, whose 2391 points is an IRB sevens record, and coach Ben Ryan hopes his "relaxed and ruthless" squad can build on a victory that secured 24 championship points.
New Zealand handler Gordon Tietjens, who has been at the helm for 17 years, says the days of his country and Fiji dominating the high-octane abbreviated form of rugby union are over.
"The world series have become so unpredictable with six or seven teams capable of winning any leg of the championship. My feeling is Fiji are the sleeping giant this year," he said.
Fiji get a chance to avenge a three-point semi-final loss to Samoa in Group B completed by the United States and Namibia while Group A comprises Australia, Scotland, Wales and France.