Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

Willemse ‘super proud’ of Stormers as they gear up for La Rochelle

This weekend's match could be the Stormers' biggest game of the season.

Stormers utility star Damian Willemse is proud of his team’s efforts in the Champions Cup this season and is looking forward to the challenge of taking on double defending champs La Rochelle in the last 16 at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The Stormers have lost one only match in the competition to date, their first pool game when they sent a second-string side to England to face Leicester Tigers, putting up a great fight before going down 35-26 in the end.

Since then the Stormers have won three straight games, starting with a nail-biting 21-20 pool stage win over La Rochelle that saw them scoring a try on the full-time hooter and still needing flyhalf Manie Libbok to slot the touchline conversion for the breathtaking win.

They followed that up with a 31-24 home win over Sale Sharks and a 24-20 away victory over Stade Francais, which saw them finishing the pool phase on a high and securing a second monster home clash of the season against the French giants.

Improved confidence

They will now hope to take the confidence built from those games, and some recent good form in the United Rugby Championship (URC) that has seen them rising to fifth on the table, into what could be their biggest game of this season.

“I am just super proud about what we’ve done in this competition. We went to Welford Road (Leicester) and got great confidence going into the next game,” explained Willemse.

“We came home and beat La Rochelle right at the end. We got over the hurdle against Sale Sharks and then we went to Paris, which was really tough in that time of winter. We won that game as well and that’s the confidence we can take.

“This is a round of 16 game, this is a knockout round. It’s pressure. It’s all about how we as a team manage that pressure and come up with solutions.

“It’s a massive occasion. We can’t look at it and not have fun. That’s what we do as the Stormers. We go out and play to the best of our ability, but we also go and have fun. We can’t just be under pressure, we need to enjoy ourselves.”

Good match-up

Willemse felt their previous game against La Rochelle had given them a good indication of what to expect this weekend, and he believed they could match up to them in both the forward pack and backline.

“They’ve got a very balanced game. They have got big forwards who can take you on physically and can take you on in the set-piece. But so do we,” said Willemse.

“I think our pack has shown what they can do throughout the Champions Cup and URC, so it’s going to be a big clash. They have got good outside backs, but so do we.”