South African veterans head to the USA
NEWS: Former All Blacks great Ma’a Nonu may have only just confirmed his exit from Major League Rugby last week, but his old club, the San Diego Legion, have already dipped into the player market to fill the void he has left.
While replacing the experience of a 103-Test, two-time World Cup-winning midfielder, who has returned to France for a second stint at Toulon, is no easy task, the Legion have done well in securing the services of two South African veterans.
Springboks outside back Bjorn Basson and long-serving South African Sevens playmaker Cecil Afrika will ply their trade for the Californian club in 2021, it was announced this week.
Afrika recently retired from international Sevens following the cancellation of the remaining 2019-20 World Sevens Series events and postponement of the Tokyo Olympics.
An outside back in XVs, the 32-year-old brings with him ample of experience in the abbreviated version in the game, having played 345 matches on the world circuit between 2009 and 2020.
In that time, Afrika finished in the series’ all-time top 10 for points scored (1462) and tries scored (179), and was crowned International Sevens Player of the Year in 2011.
He was also part of the South African teams that claimed the World Sevens Series titles in 2009, 2017 and 2018, won a gold medal at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, a bronze medal at the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games and bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
In 2011, Cecil was winner of the IRB International Sevens Player of the Year award. He was a member of the South Africa Sevens team that won a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics. 🏆 #WeAreLegion pic.twitter.com/wHzadHHL2BADVERTISEMENT
— San Diego Legion (@SDLegion) October 1, 2020
Basson, meanwhile, joins the Legion as one of their marquee players for the 2021 season in a move that adds to his storied career.
After making a name for himself at domestic level in South Africa, the 33-year-old outside back played 13 Tests for the Springboks between 2010 and 2013.
Amassing over 100 appearances in Super Rugby with the Cheetahs, Bulls and Stormers, Basson also spent time in Japan with the Honda Heat and in France with Oyonnax before joining the Southern Kings in the Pro14 in 2018.
However, it was in Russia where he has most recently been playing, plying his trade for Enisei-STM in the Professional Rugby League and European Challenge Cup.
Together, the pair will add to the growing foreign contingent in a San Diego squad that features the likes of former England captain Chris Robshaw, fellow South African Joe Pieterson, 2016 Olympic gold medallist Jasa Veremalua, Philippines international Derrick Broussard and experienced Italian lock Josh Furno.
Prior to the cancellation of the 2020 MLR season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legion were undefeated after five matches and sat 11 points clear at the top of the western conference.
By Alex McLeod, @RugbyPass