Stormers ‘Top Gun’ fly it again

Vodacom United Rugby Championship’s top gun, Stormers flier Leolin Zas came dangerously close to spinning in his wings.

Zas, 26, beat all comers with 11 tries in 11 games this season to win the Vodacom URC top scorer award. Five years ago he was sent off from Newlands in a pre-season friendly with a broken left leg and while recovering he was so frustrated with his performance in limited playing time that he planned to retire.

MORE: Dayimani circus act set to tame Ulster

“Leolin had a horrible break in 2017,” said DHL Stormers coach John Dobson. “He broke two bones in his leg. As a sprinter you wondered if he would ever come back at full speed and for a long time it looked like he would.

Zas missed the remainder of the 2017 season and, after a failed attempt to revive his career with Cell C Sharks in 2018, he retraced his steps in Cape Town.

“He didn’t really land at (Cell C) Sharks, we brought him back here and there were glimpses, but I can’t say he came back to Western Province and that was instant success,” Dobson said.

With Zas back home and on the pitch, it wasn’t easy for the Hermanus High Speedster who faced a combination of issues, limited playing time and lack of form.

“It was mentally a very traumatic time for him. Leolin was a Super Rugby star in 2016 at the age of 21,’ Dobson added.

“You don’t have a lot of wings that size in South Africa, with a great kicking game, he’s good in the air and brings pure physicality. But the problem with him was always his work rate and, I think, as he started not getting there, he started getting anxious. I don’t know if he lost interest or felt like he wasn’t going to make it, but he kind of walked away from the games.

“He was here for about 18 months – playing, not playing; having big moments, then moments off – and we just needed to give him more intensity on the pitch.

CHRONICLE: Freezing Too Good To Ignore

It was a dark time made even darker for Zas by the death of his father. But this year, the sun began to rise over his career, and the temperature soared in March.

“He did well against Munster and Dragons on the tour in October and we thought we’d give him another chance when we came home to face Zebre Parma in Stellenbosch.”

After scoring a try in a 34-18 defeat at Thomond Park, Zas starred with a try double in the 55-7 demolition of the Italians on tour.

Looking back, Zas had taken the first steps in a string of back-to-back starts in which he netted 10 times as the DHL Stormers won eight straight.

“Leolin tried his luck with both hands,” says Dobson. “As is very often the case with him, if Leolin feels supported, he will return it to you in spectacular fashion. We are delighted with what he has done and look forward to what is yet to come.

Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

Chester T. Johnson