If there’s one player in the current Sharks set-up who is living proof of the fact that hard work knows no substitute when it comes to progressing in the game of rugby, it’s Anton Bresler. While a number of the players in the current under 21 side, who will play in the final of the ABSA Under 21 Competition next weekend, may have had a somewhat easier ride, having been identified and nurtured early in their careers, Bresler has had to come up the hard way and fight for every opportunity. And he’s a better player for it.
Sharksworld was fortunate to catch up with the 21-year-old Namibian-born lock forward on a rare day off from training. Even though we interrupted his quality time with his Playstation, Bresler was clearly very excited about the challenge that lay ahead for the team. “It’s the first time I’m playing in a final like this and I don’t really know what to expect,” he says, “but I know the Cheetahs are going to be very physical. They have a very strong pack and backs that want to run from everywhere.” Bresler wasn’t in the Under 19 team that won the trophy last year, as he was already playing for the Under 21s, but reckons that having so many of that champion team still together in this year’s Under 21 team has definitely brought the winning culture through.
Another young man who was not a part of that team last year is Pat Lambie and Bresler is full of praise for his young teammate, who was still a pupil at Michaelhouse in 2008 and has leapfrogged the under 19 side altogether. “You just feel so comfortable with a guy like Pat at fullback,” he says, “because he doesn’t make mistakes. You just know that he’s going to be safe under the high ball and that his kicks are going to go over”. While Lambie’s boot has certainly been one of the key factors in the team’s superb season, Bresler reckons that “our defence has been one of our strengths and has really helped us to get to where we are”. A key member of a tight five containing four Baby Boks in Dale Chadwick, Julian Redelinghuys (both Sharks senior débutants this year) , Kyle Cooper and Jandré Marais, Bresler and his buddies in the “engine room” have played a huge part in the team’s success. “We know the things that we need to do up front, if that makes any sense. We know that, although we aren’t always the guys who make things happen, we are the guys who have to get things started. We’re just going to focus on doing what we know how to do in the final.”
The coaching of Sean Everitt has also been a revelation and one of the key reasons that this year’s Under 21 side has performed so much better. “Sean is just such a great coach – just the things he says to the players to get you mentally ready for the game. He finds different ways to motivate you and has a great relationship with the players. He knows what we are capable of and doesn’t shout and swear when things go wrong.” Everitt has shown remarkable continuity in selection this season, with only the odd injury and a call-up or two to the Currie Cup squad disrupting what has been a very settled 22. Bresler reckons that the faith that the coach has in his players really does rub off and results in a confident and happy squad.
We spoke a little about the route that Anton followed to get into the Sharks and as already alluded to, his journey hasn’t always been an easy one. Awarded a scholarship to attend Durban High School, he admits that “I lost my way with rugby at high school. It was only really in my Matric year that I started to take it seriously and play well, but I didn’t make the Craven Week side.” For many players, missing out on selection for the premier schoolboy event can be a fatal blow to their aspirations, as scouts from all the major unions use Craven Week as an opportunity to hand out junior contracts and academy places to the stand-out schoolboys on display. “I was very fortunate to be spotted while playing at the St Stithians Festival,” he continues, “and I was offered a place at the Zululand Rugby Academy in Empangeni”. The Zululand Academy is the somewhat less fashionable alternative to the Sharks Academy proper and although the Zululand Rhinos club that it feeds is always a good bet to upset one or two of the big Durban clubs each year, it’s far harder for Zululand players to crack the Sharks nod.
“I really did well at the Academy,” Bresler tells us, “and having a coach who believed in me made all the difference. That year I was selected for the Sharks Under 19 team and was offered a junior contract.” What the unassuming youngster fails to mention is that he was selected as the Sharks Under 19 player of the year in 2007. His game has continued to flourish ever since and he is now in his second year with the Under 21s. A freak knee injury that occurred at training earlier this year has put things in perspective for Bresler and he refuses to take anything for granted. His ambitions are sensible ones: “right now, I just want to keep on playing and not get injured. I’d love to stay with the Sharks, although nothing has bee finalised yet for next year. My goal is to play some Vodacom Cup next year, maybe Currie Cup too, if not the year after.” Asked about longer term goals, Bresler reckons that he prefers to focus on more immediate, achievable steps. “There are only fifteen guys who can get picked for the Springboks, so your chances of getting there, realistically, are basically zero. I’m just going to keep playing hard and doing my best and if that sort of thing is meant to be, for me, it will happen.”
Our talk drifts back to the big game. When asked whether playing at Loftus will benefit either side, Bresler is realistic. “There are three Cheetahs teams playing on the day, so there will be a lot of support for them. Maybe some of the Bulls fans will be behind us, though… you never know”. We wondered whether playing in front of small crowds in the Under 21 competition was somewhat of an anticlimax for the team, and Bresler replied, “definitely not – at this stage of our careers, we all realise how fortunate we are just to be allowed onto those great stadiums. Just playing there is enough. We can’t expect big crowds to turn out for us, because we haven’t earned that yet…”
Sharksworld would like to thank Anton for his time and needless to say, we wish him and the team nothing but the very best of luck for the big game next weekend. You kids have done us proud and we’re behind you all the way!Tweet