ANTON Bresler will realise a childhood dream of playing rugby overseas when he begins a three-year spell with Edinburgh Rugby next month, the latest of head coach Alan Solomons’ compatriots to join him.
Aside from two recent lengthy spells on the sidelines with shoulder injuries, the 26-year-old lock has been a regular in Super Rugby with the Durban-based Sharks franchise since 2010, but he is not the first from his family to seek a playing career in the northern hemisphere.
His cousin, versatile back- rower Tinus du Plessis, had spells at Rotherham and Wasps and is a Namibian international.
Like his parents and siblings, Bresler was born in Namibia. His birthplace was by design to ensure he wasn’t the only one in the family left out but he is keen to stress he is very much South African: “I grew up here. Proper South African, proper Boks supporter,” he says.
So what motivates a man who has spent almost all of his life in Durban, likes to relax among the vast wildlife in the bush near St Lucia and is very close to his family and friends, to pack his bags for Auld Reekie with Kelly, his wife? In his case, it is more than just the money and length of contract.
“You might think your contract is big, but it could be a lot more expensive there, therefore your contract needs to be more,” he said. “For a lot of us, it’s also about the experience – it’s going to be totally different to what I have here.
“I’ve played a lot of Super Rugby. I’ve been lucky to compete with All Blacks, Wallabies and Springboks. In Europe, you go to England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy.
“This is what you want from sport. You want the travelling, making new mates and experiencing different rugby cultures. I’ve always been a big admirer of [Munster lock] Paul O’Connell, so it’d be a big honour to play against him.
“The nice thing is that this was something I really wanted to do even when I was a boy in high school and struggling. With sport giving you these opportunities, I had to go and experience something.”
Bresler has had to work hard to get his break in South African rugby. Leaving the family home when he finished school, he moved to the small town of Empangeni, north of Durban, before progressing through the age-grade levels with the Sharks.
Amused by the “Edinboks” and “Edinboere” nicknames attached to his new club in the last year, he admits to knowing a lot of South Africans in northern hemisphere rugby, including the Edinburgh contingent and Glasgow Warriors No 8, Josh Strauss.
Elsewhere, Saracens lock Alistair Hargreaves was his head boy and captain of the rugby team at Durban High School and he has also become good friends with Wiehahn Herbst – one of Ulster’s new recruits – who was best man at his wedding, so it was an easy decision to join Edinburgh.
“Speaking to my agent and a few people, there were only good things said about the people of Scotland and Edinburgh,” he added. “As a club, they’ve had their good years and their bad years, but I can’t think of a team that’s never had a bad season. Those things happen.
“I’m also recently married now. Knowing some of the boys obviously makes it a lot easier. I’m going to be away from my family and my close friends so you want to be surrounded with people who will welcome you.
“That was one of the main reasons I thought Edinburgh would be good. It’s a well-known rugby town and the Scottish people are so passionate about the game.
“You want to be surrounded with people who make you comfortable. Just being two people by yourself going into a big, strange city you need to rely on the people around you and I’m looking forward to this from the Scottish public.”
There is already talk of him being the latest Scottish Rugby “project” player to work towards eligibility for the national team but, this early in his new life, Bresler is focused solely on playing his part to transform Edinburgh’s fortunes in the Pro12.
“I’m South African, but even people here ask me if I’d consider playing for Scotland,” he said. “It’s such a long time away it’s not the first thing on my mind. My priority is going to Edinburgh to improve my rugby and to help them become a better team – that is what I’m really worried about right now.
“There is always a bit of pressure coming into a team, but I can’t do more than do the basics well and give my best week in week out.
“I enjoy the dirty stuff, the dog work: jumping early and winning the lineout; making sure the team gets good, clean ball whether it’s off the lineout or in the ruck; offering resistance in the scrum; cleaning out and tackling.”
“Like any South African player, I’m aggressive and physical – that’s probably the norm for us – but there’s never a game where I don’t try to give my best. I don’t know if people expect me to be some kind of super hero, but I promise to give my best and if the opportunity to play for Scotland does come up I’d love to take it. If not, life goes on.”