Cape Town - Leolin Zas played in 15 of the Stormers’ 16 Super Rugby matches in 2016 – not bad for a 20-year-old who many rugby fans had never heard of at the start of the year.
The only game Zas missed was against the Sunwolves on May 14. He was suspended following his red card for a dangerous tackle on Waratahs flyhalf Bernard Foley the week before.
Zas had just one Currie Cup cap to his name when he got his big Super Rugby break; a sign of how highly Stormers coach Robbie Fleck rated this youngster after having worked with him in the U-21s.
It was a decision that paid off as Zas finished the competition with an impressive 8 tries.
Now the Hermanus High School product has turned his attention to the Currie Cup – a tournament he vividly remembers watching as a young boy.
After seeing matches on TV, Zas used to beg the other kids in the neighbourhood to kick a rugby ball with him.
“They never wanted to play with me,” Zas laughs.
“I used to watch the Currie Cup from all the way back then. It’s hard to pick one moment when it all started … I always loved the game.”
The story of how Zas became a wing is quite comical, and years from now Dawie Theron could be credited with the discovery should Zas make it on to the big stage as many expect him to.
In 2013 Zas was a part of the SA U-18 side that was set to play in a quadrangular against France, England and Wales.
“I was chosen for the SA Schools team at centre and I think there was an injury to Grant Hermanus (now also with Western Province),” Zas recalls.
“There was an opening at wing … I wasn’t in the team at that time so when (coach) Dawie Theron asked me if I could play wing I said I could without even thinking … I just wanted to play.
“From that day on I’ve played wing … I’ve never played another position, except for a bit of fullback now with the SA ‘A’ side (against England Saxons).”
Zas may have been discovered as a wing in bizarre fashion, but he has certainly grown into the position.
He has a burst of pace that can rival anyone in the country, while he considers his physicality one of his major strengths.
And despite being a centre at school, Zas’s hero was a wing.
“My favourite player at that time was a wing … Bryan Habana,” he remembers.
“He was at his peak. I was a huge fan and I always wanted to wear the No 11 jersey, even though I was a centre.
“At Province the No 11 jersey is a big thing and I always wanted to wear No 11 just to be like him.”
With Habana now 33, the chances of him and Zas sharing the field are slim to none.
“That would be amazing,” Zas laughs.
“I just hope I can fill his shoes (at Western Province and the Stormers). He’s a great player and I still look up to him. If there ever was a possibility to play next to him … that would be incredible.”
It is early days yet for Zas, but what young rugby player hasn’t thought of playing for the Boks?
“I think I’m still going through a lot of phases and there’s a lot I have to work on first,” he says.
“But that’s definitely in the back of my mind.
“Firstly I have to give my all to my team and make my team win.”
For now, the aim is a trip to the Golden Lions in the Currie Cup on Friday night.
Western Province are coming off the back of a 34-27 win against the Sharks, and Zas is excited by what is happening at Newlands.
“The type of game that we’re playing now, I love it,” he says with the confidence of a seasoned veteran.
“We use a lot of width and I love having the ball in my hands.
“I want to win this competition badly.”