Stormers head coach John Dobson sang the praises of Springbok utility back Damian Willemse after his superb performance in the Cape Town-based side’s last-gasp triumph over Ulster in their URC semi-final on Saturday.
After missing the Stormers’ quarter-final triumph over Edinburgh with an elbow injury, Willemse returned to action for the clash against the Northern Irish province and played a prominent role as the home side clinched a 17-15 injury time victory.
Dobson admitted that there were doubts whether inside centre would be ready for the crunch match but such is his commitment to the Stormers that he played through the pain barrier during an 80-minute shift and was rewarded with the official man of the match award.
“It’s a credit to him‚ because he is not fully fit‚” said Dobson. “He was in quite a bit of pain at some stages. For him to come through and get man of the match in those circumstances is just brilliant.
“I hope he is all right for next week. He has got some form of compound fracture in his elbow‚ which is healing. Another week will help a lot.”
Dobson revealed why the 24-year-old is one of the most important players in the Stormers squad.
“If anybody oozes blue and white in their veins‚ bleeds blue and white‚ it’s Damian Willemse. He wasn’t missing this game for anything,” he said.
“When the doctor said he could play‚ late in the week‚ he shouted ‘Yes man’ out of the window at people in traffic. He is a special person and a special player‚ so I am very chuffed. It was amazing‚ you could see how heavily he was strapped.”
Although the Stormers did well to advance to the final with a gutsy performance during the game’s later stages with 14 men – after replacement lock Adre Smith was red carded for making contact with the eyes of Ulster captain Iain Henderson – Dobson believes there is still plenty of room for improvement for his charges.
He also feels that referee Mike Adamson’s performance left a lot to be desired.
“It was a really frustrating performance‚” added Dobson. “Our discipline was poor. It was obviously an unsatisfactory experience on the refereeing side.
“We didn’t stick to our plan. We dropped a lot of ball. It was a poor performance. We showed heart to come back and to dominate the last 12‚ 14 minutes with a man down was very special.”