By Greg Stutchbury
TOKYO (Reuters) – South Africa forwards coach Matt Proudfoot had a similar reaction to the rest of the rugby world watching England destroy New Zealand in the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup last week – open-mouthed awe.
England beat the two-times defending champions 19-7 last Saturday while the Springboks beat Wales 19-16 on the following day to set up a rematch of the 2007 final on Nov. 2 at Yokohama Stadium.
“It was a great game to watch. Gee, it was a great game,” Proudfoot told reporters on Wednesday of what he thought of the England side’s semi-final performance.
“We … were impressed with their game.”
Proudfoot, who has been involved with the Springboks since 2016, indicated England’s forwards’ performance against the All Blacks was a combination of the sharp edge of a rapier with a slashing claymore.
“They were very powerful (but) it wasn’t just brute force, there was very intelligent play from their pack,” he said.
“Up front they’re a lot more confident in what they’re doing. They understand what they want to do.
“Mitch (John Mitchell) has added more detail on their defence, particularly around what they do at the tackle.
“They have become far more efficient in what they do, in terms of their efficiency of execution, it’s a lot better.
“That is what we need to match. It will be a tough game.”
Proudfoot, however, was equally equivocal his own pack, designed for clubbing opposition sides into submission, would be able to match the power of Eddie Jones’s side.
The forwards now had a lot of experience from numbers one to eight, as well as off the bench, with several already exceeding 50 caps each, while Tendai Mtawarira had more than 100, Proudfoot added.
“A lot of guys have been there and done that … and our coaching philosophy is to empower these guys to handle the situation,” he said. “What has impressed me is how … they solve their problems.”
The Springboks team was also well aware of what they could possibly achieve if they win their country’s third Rugby World Cup title, having won in 1995 and 2007.
“I think South Africa as a country has got a lot of challenges,” he said. “(But) it’s a country with a hell of a lot of pride in their national team.
“When you see a player become a Springbok, they change. They take what it means to them to the country. There is a real connection between the Springbok player and what it means to be a Springbok and the supporter back home.
“Everyone involved in this, we understand it is a final. I suppose the side that does what they do better will be the more successful team.”
(Editing by Stephen Coates)