DHL Stormers winger Leolin Zas knows better than anyone how tough it can be to miss out on a big game, so he is relishing the opportunity to make an impact against Connacht in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship semifinal on Saturday.
Zas last week announced his comeback from a gluteal muscle tear by scoring a magical try as the DHL Stormers beat traditional rivals the Vodacom Bulls at DHL Stadium.
The lethal finisher was at the heart of the DHL Stormers team that won the inaugural Vodacom United Rugby Championship, but injury has limited him to just 11 appearances in all competitions this season.
Zas is looking forward to the blockbuster clash in Cape Town, a spectacle particularly important to the winger who missed the 2021/22 final due to an ankle injury.
Recovering from his latest setback has given he 27-year-old a fresh perspective, and he is hungrier than ever to get back to full active duty.
“First of all, it was just a blessing to be able to play again after a long time off with injury, and against the Vodacom Bulls at home,” he said. “I think these are the things you dream of when you are a little boy so I was just very happy and blessed.
“I think personally we have the best supporters in Cape Town! The vibe is just different and they just bring the best out of us.
“Knowing that so many people believe in us, they spend their money, which they work hard for, to buy a ticket to watch us play, and we would love to have the same amount of people there this weekend, or even more! It makes a huge difference.”
Unless Munster beat Leinster in Dublin, Saturday’s semifinal will be Ulster-bound captain Steven Kitshoff’s last home appearance for the DHL Stormers – Zas and his teammates are determined to make it memorable.
He added: “I think it would be a great gift to Kitsie if he can have a home final before he leaves us, and I think the boys would love to give him that for his last game!
“Kitsie is a great leader, on and off the field, and we’re going to miss him a lot. So it is all up to us to give him a good farewell present, but for now we are just focused on this weekend’s game.”
The return of Zas adds to the team’s attacking arsenal in the back three along with playmaker Damian Willemse, and Angelo Davids, who is coming into his own at right wing this season.
And Zas is steeling himself for a showdown in the wide channels at DHL Stadium against flyer Mack Hansen, a 14-Test-cap Ireland international who won the Grand Slam in the 2023 Six Nations, and who last week played a key role as Connacht shocked Ulster 15-10 in Belfast.
“I think Connacht showed us last weekend what they can do against a quality team like Ulster, so we have to be on our A-game this weekend.
“Mack Hansen is a quality player and has the ability to do magic from anywhere on the field; he showed that in the last two seasons.”