London – After watching the South Africa pack demolish England in last year's Rugby World Cup final, coach Eddie Jones' next step was obvious — get the coaching brains behind the Springbok scrum, Matt Proudfoot, to jump ship and head to Twickenham.
The deal was done in January but his first four months in the job have not been what he expected. After the initial excitement of the Six Nations, Proudfoot now finds himself locked down back in Cape Town.
However, like many coaches deprived of endless sessions and matches to watch, he has made the most analytical dive of his entire coaching career and taken time to talk to players.
"As someone new to the England set up and new to forming relationships with these players, speaking to them in their home environment gives me a different insight," Proudfoot told a teleconference on Wednesday.
"Getting to meet their kids, their wives, building relationships from a home perspective rather than a camp environment or having to do a club visit.
"I've tried to make the best of the time and to take stock from what I've learnt over the past year."
Proudfoot is not new to the British rugby scene, having played for Edinburgh and Glasgow and won four Scotland caps through a grandparental qualification.
He then moved on to coach in South Africa and Japan but said, on his return, how he was struck by the similarities.
"Wherever you are in the world they (forwards) tend to be the same type of people so that's something I've enjoyed," said the former prop.
"A Joe Marler and a Steven Kitshoff, a Lood de Jager and a Maro Itoje, tend to be similar types of people, and that's quite surprised me.
"But what has been very different is the way Eddie produces his system. Eddie wants to build the best rugby environment.
"He pushes every part of the department to be the best they can be, whereas maybe the Springbok environment was about really preserving the Springbok identity."
Having worked under Rassie Erasmus at the World Cup, Proudfoot faces a different challenge with Jones. Many have wilted under the Australian's famously demanding regime but Proudfoot is reveling in it.
"Eddie has tried to pull a whole lot of different perspectives into the English model and tried to really make it the best," he said. "That has required me to grow, requires the players to grow, staff members to grow and to be outside your comfort zone and that has been a very big difference.
"His preparation is exceptional. How holistically he prepares a team. He wants us to continually improve the way we do things so, once we've trained, he'll ask us how we could improve that session.
"He's got a thirst for improvement of the environment and of the players and the way it relates to training specifically."
Training at the moment presents many challenges.
Proudfoot said it was likely to take some time for players to get their bodies — and minds — back in a position to absorb the fierce and relentless impacts of the modern-day game but that he and the strength and conditioning team have been working full out to try to formulate individual programs to keep players in the best possible shape.
"There are things you can do that are not so easy in a camp environment," he said. "It's the same for me, where I'm trying to utilise my time to make the best of the time and take stock from what I've learnt over the past year.
"It's been quite full-on, it's been back-to-back with the World Cup and Six Nations and only now do I have an ability to take cognisance of what has happened — what have I learned, what can I take forward, what is good to take forward, what is good to implement new, where can I make a change to the environment I have come into?
"It's given me an opportunity to do that and then to work on myself."
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