PLAYING in a major final will be a new experience for many of Edinburgh’s players on Friday but South African lock Anton Bresler is one who can draw on the memories of three showpiece occasions.
The former Natal Shark has performed in two Currie Cup finals in his homeland and also the Super Rugby final of 2012. Of this trio it is the first – the 2010 Currie Cup final – which is most vivid in the 27-year-old’s mind as it was the only in which he ended up on the winning side, even though he was only on the pitch for the last few minutes as a late replacement.
The key to winning a big game is to stay patient and keep grinding, grindingAnton Bresler
“My first final was the Currie Cup final in Durban in 2010 for the Sharks against Western Province [a 30-10 win],” explained Bresler. “We had [now Edinburgh team-mate] Andries Strauss at inside centre and there was Bismarck du Plessis, Alistair Hargreaves… I only got the last minutes off the bench but it was a great occasion for a young boy to play against Schalk Brits, John de Villiers, some good players. For a South African rugby player that was the ultimate. I heard some of the Springbok players before the match saying this Currie Cup final meant more to them than the Super Rugby final. It meant so much.”
It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Currie Cup in the sporting landscape of South Africa. Named after the Scottish shipowner Sir Donald Currie, who transported the first touring British Isles team to South Africa in 1891, it is the country’s premier domestic competition.
A possible parallel in terms of iconic significance could be the FA Cup but, while English football’s top knockout competition has faded into the shadows of the Premier League and Champions League of late, the Currie Cup retains its standing despite technically being a rung below the inter-Southern Hemisphere Super Rugby tournament.
Bresler also tasted Super final action in 2012 as a member of the Sharks side which lost 37-6 to Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton, New Zealand in the same year that he also lost the 2012 Currie Cup final to Western Province. “We got a bit of a hammering but it was a good experience,” Bresler says of the Super final.
In terms of global prestige, the final of Europe’s second-tier competition is not at the same level as a Super Rugby final but Bresler doesn’t see it that way.
“This is a big cup final in a competition involving how many different countries. This is quite huge, especially for a club that is hungry for something like this.”
When it comes to imparting wisdom on how to approach the unique experience of playing in a final – 80 minutes away from the tangible reward of silverware or, alternatively, the dark despondency of defeat, Bresler said: “What every player needs to realise is that it is just another game. You don’t want to over-think things. You don’t want to get too nervous.
“You need to be mentally prepared. As a lock you need to know the lineout codes, do the things you do in every game. I have played in games when you get too nervous and you lose the plot and end up having a bad game. The key to winning a big game is to stay patient and to keep grinding, grinding away, making small yards. Never give up basically. Either way, if you are patient and keep grinding away the other team can break down.”
The fact that the opposition and venue is completely fresh, rather than a team from the same league or one that has been faced earlier in the competition, adds a fresh dynamic to the showdown with Gloucester at Twickenham Stoop.
“Yes it does because you don’t know what it will be like,” agreed Bresler. “I have played against a few English sides in the Challenge Cup but it is exciting because I don’t know what to expect.
“You do see on the tape their strengths and weaknesses but you have never really had that combat against one of their players to physically feel what it is like to play against them.
“You come up against certain guys and find out they are really quick and really strong and you prepare yourself for the next time you play them with that in mind. You know what to expect because you know what he is good at. On Friday it will be new.
“As a sportsman you want to reach the final and be the best.”