The Stormers received a major boost ahead of their United Rugby Championship (URC) semifinal clash against Ulster at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 3pm), after Springbok utility back Damian Willemse was cleared fit to play.
Willemse was nursing an arm injury that had ruled him out of last weekend’s quarterfinal against Edinburgh and had threatened to rule him out of this weekend’s clash against Ulster, only for him to be cleared to play at the last possible moment.
It is a major relief for the home side who lost Willemse’s replacement last week, Rikus Pretorius, to an injury just five minutes into the quarterfinal, with debutant Sacha Mngomezulu being thrown into the deep end, with him putting in an assured performance.
Mngomezulu will once again be on the bench this weekend and will hope that he won’t be needed as early in the match this time round.
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Awaiting the winner of Saturday’s match are the Bulls, who shocked Leinster in their semifinal in Dublin Friday night.
“Damian is another phenomenal player and credit must go to him and the medical staff for getting him ready for this game. He is a world-class performer who would make a difference to any team,” admitted a relieved Stormers coach John Dobson.
Stormers wing Seabelo Senatla will also be celebrating his 50th Stormers cap this weekend and will be hoping to do it in style with a semi win over Ulster.
“Seabelo is an incredibly gifted athlete who would have reached this milestone long ago if he wasn’t also one of the greatest Sevens players of all time. He deserves all the plaudits that come his way, he is a true professional and a big part of our success this season,” said Dobson.
The Stormers will be expecting a full house to turn up and support them against Ulster, after a superb crowd cheered them to victory in the quarterfinal.
“I think the atmosphere last week was exceptional and it’s great to have the fans and faithful back. So hopefully we will be close to a full capacity stadium this weekend which will be exciting,” said Stormers captain Steven Kitshoff.
It has been a long and incredible season for the Stormers, who managed to drag themselves from 14th place on the log at the end of last year, to second and are now on the verge of making the final in their maiden season in the URC, thanks to a remarkable turnaround in form.
“I think when we got back from that break in January, before we started the home leg of the competition, we had a goal in mind to just end in the top eight. As the season carried on and we gained momentum the team built confidence and our priorities and goals shifted,” explained Kitshoff.
“I think one of the key things is that we had a clear picture in our head of what we wanted to achieve this season and we have just built on that momentum, and in the end good coaching and analysis has got us to where we are today.”