There was a moment during last year’s World Cup when Matt Proudfoot, who on Monday was appointed England’s forwards coach, sounded just like his new boss, Eddie Jones. Answering a long-winded question about whether rugby in South Africa had a doping problem, he replied: “I’m a forwards coach, mate.”
It was a response Jones has perfected in the four years he has been in charge of England, not wasting words on issues beyond his control. Proudfoot, who every week would head one of South Africa’s media conferences, adopted the same approach, willing to talk at length about scrums, lineouts, rucks and mauls and tactics but pressing the mute button when asked about political matters.
The 47-year-old, who won four caps for Scotland as a prop from 1998 after qualifying through his paternal grandfather, will be in charge of all aspects of England’s forward play. He replaces Neal Hatley, who has joined Bath, while Steve Borthwick, who shared the responsibility for the pack with an emphasis on the lineout, has been redeployed as skills coach before his expected move to Leicester at the end of the Six Nations.
It was the role Proudfoot filled with South Africa for four seasons from the beginning of 2016, having made his name as a coach with Western Province and then the Stormers, bringing through Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Vincent Koch and Bongi Mbonambi among others. Such was the reputation he developed that when the Sharks played the Stormers in Super Rugby, the Springboks prop Tendai Mtawarira would always seek his advice.
“Matt has a lot of technical knowledge who invests in the guys he is coaching,” said the former South Africa hooker Schalk Brits, who retired after last year’s World Cup. “He cares for players.”
South Africa’s success in Japan was based on their foundation at forward: they did not lose a lineout on their own throw until the semi-final against Wales and battered an England eight in the final that a week earlier had routed the New Zealand eight.
Proudfoot was one of two specialist coaches appointed by Jones, who lost Hatley and the attack coach, Scott Wisemantel, now part of Australia’s management team under Dave Rennie, after the World Cup and replaced by Simon Amor, who has overseen England’s men and women sevens programmes since 2013.
Amor will have less licence with Jones in charge of skills but he will be expected to add innovation to a side that has long tended to be inward looking in tight matches.
“England is probably the best team in world rugby to coach,” said Proudfoot, who had a stint with Kobe Steelers in Japan. “Having coached against them you get to respect their identity, so to get the opportunity to be part of that is a huge honour. I am really grateful to be given this chance and it is a decision I take with great humility and responsibility, knowing there is a huge legacy to live up to.”
His time in Scotland, which was interrupted by a series of injuries, means northern hemisphere conditions will not be a culture shock. In the buildup to the World Cup final he paid tribute to Jones, Hatley and Borthwick, noting how England had become more efficient in all aspects at forward and describing their performance against New Zealand as incredible. “I looked at it and thought wow,” he said. “Under Eddie they have come to understand what they want to do and are a lot more confident. They are the trendsetters.”
Jones, who joined England from the Stormers at the end of 2015, believes Proudfoot can take England’s forwards to another level. “He brings great technical expertise and knowledge having coached in South Africa and Japan,” he said. “The Six Nations is a fresh start for the team and that is how we have approached our coaching staff. We felt we needed to regenerate the forwards coaching area and Matt has had an outstanding coaching career to date, culminating in being a World Cup-winning coach.
“We have had our eyes on Simon for a while. We used him in the run-up to the World Cup in some training camps. I have been very impressed with his dynamism and his rugby intellect. He will bring a fresh view on how we build our attack. We have done some great things under Scott Wisemantel and we will always be forever grateful for the work he did, but we are excited about Simon coming in and what he is going to bring.”