IT’S A rough old game rugby, no matter how many video replays they offer the referee. And it has been suggested that Edinburgh’s new South African lock Anton Bresler has been recruited as an old fashioned enforcer, a budget Bakkies Botha who will add muscle and menace.
If so, he is the most polite hitman since John Travolta helped James Gandolfini off the floor in Get Shorty.
The journos have him waiting for half an hour while head coach Alan Solomons ruminates on Edinburgh’s scrum woes, but Bresler shakes everyone’s hand and insists that he is delighted to meet us. He is upbeat about pretty much everything in his adopted country while admitting that, having spent his life in South Africa, he is still getting used to some things in Scotland, like the weather and buses. He hasn’t had much of a break since Super Rugby ended but, then again, he hasn’t had much of a season.
“This whole year I have been on and off with injuries,” says Bresler. “I haven’t played much... I haven’t really had a break. Last year I just came back from a shoulder injury and I started the season off for the Sharks against the Bulls and I played something like five games into the season and I hurt my other shoulder and I was out for another three months or so. I made my comeback against the Cheetahs, played three games and then broke my ribs, so it was another bad season in terms of injuries.”
Despite being born in Namibia, Bresler is as South African as biltong and he is instantly recognisable to any rugby fan thanks in part to his long blond locks that reach to below his neck and, just occasionally, fall in the opposite direction. While many players will claim they can play rugby standing on their head, Bresler proved as much while appearing alongside Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira for the Sharks against the Stormers two years ago.
The pair misjudged a kick off reception and an airborne Bresler was forced to bend so far back to claim the kick that he ended up upside down on the prop’s back and was only saved from serious injury by the extraordinary strength of the Beast, who dangled him upside down, holding on to his shorts which, happily, stayed in place.
The big lock was an integral part of South African rugby but at the age of 26 he may have given up on appearing for the Springboks. He will qualify for Scotland by the end of his current three-year contract, not that he mentions it.
“Back in 2013, I said to my agent I really needed to travel a bit, experience something new, meet a few new boys,” comes the reply when asked why he moved. “Being a Durbanite, I grew up in Durban, I spent my whole life in Durban and I felt the need for a bit of change. In sport you are lucky enough to get these opportunities of seeing different places and meeting new people and making a few more mates.
“I knew it [Edinburgh Rugby] had a South African coach and there were quite a few Saffa boys which made the decision a lot easier. It’s a bit of home, if you know what I mean, even though the whole environment is different in the sense that Edinburgh things work totally different here.”
Home from home is what Edinburgh Rugby has become, with enough South Africans to call the lineouts in Afrikaans. Edinburgh’s three main coaches are all South African and ten of the club’s senior players were either born, raised or schooled in the republic.
Solomons has always claimed it is the only way and, from a purely financial standpoint, it makes sense, but the large foreign legion means there is a lot less patience when faced with the failure that fans witnessed against Connacht last weekend. Edinburgh’s soft underbelly was self-evident in Connacht’s final score, which is one of the reasons Bresler has been brought on board – although he was on the field when the late try was conceded. It was an inauspicious start to his Edinburgh career and listening to the 6ft 6in, 17∫st lock talk about the size of Europe’s finest you’d be forgiven for thinking he was some sort of lightweight.
“Watching the Six Nations or even just the Northern Hemisphere the boys always look a lot bigger so it looks like it will be a lot more physical,” he says. “Things are done differently in the South Hemisphere, coaching techniques and stuff. I just came here to try to improve my game and hope to grow different parts of my game.
“When you watch the international teams [on TV] they just seem a lot bigger. I don’t know if they just gym a lot more. It’s not that we don’t gym back home but we are not as focused on gyming as we are over here. My first two weeks I suffered in the gym, pushing heavy weights, it was different. Back home you just do the basics, the gyming isn’t as intense as it is here. Our boys just have a natural [physique].
“I feel good. I am glad I had a small, little pre-season behind me. I think it was just three weeks of hard intense training. Tough gyming, jeez, a lot of running round the back. Solly [Solomons] was really tough. He said to the trainer, ‘this boy needs to get into shape,’ so I’ve had it tough. I’m glad it’s over now, I can feel a big difference in myself.”
Bresler will need to be at his best this afternoon when he lines up against the Ospreys’ lock of ages Alun Wyn Jones, one of the greatest forwards of the era. Not only is the Welshmen a skilled practitioner but he is tough as old boots and disinclined to take a single backwards step, although Bresler appears up for the challenge.
“I just think that as a South African boy we all try to be physical,” he says. “I always said that the Currie Cup was a lot harder physically on the body than Super Rugby because there is so much competition in South Africa that the boys actually get stuck in to each other... it’s a collision thing. And obviously playing a lot of physical games, it improves your physicality.”
Does he enjoy that aspect of the game?
“You have to,” comes the incredulous response. “If you don’t enjoy that side of it then you shouldn’t be playing rugby.”
As he is about the leave the room the big South African remembers his manners. “Have a nice day.” It sounded like an instruction and I, for one, was not going to argue.