England forwards coach Matt Proudfoot is braced for a World Cup-style frantic finale to the rugby union year – but is adamant player welfare is key in establishing when the sport can safely return.
The Rugby Football Union has revealed it is still planning for four scheduled Autumn Internationals and the postponed Six Nations clash with Italy – all looking likely to be staged behind closed doors.
Issues of player well-being are particularly pertinent to Proudfoot’s role, given the close proximity of forwards as well as the months of lockdown which will have kept the crucial contact-training to a bare minimum.
Proudfoot said: “It would probably be similar to a World Cup. We can always speculate it opens up in six weeks, but we don’t know. We will have to see where the world is in a month’s time.
“This is going to be a very strange process because we have never done it before so we would have to be very thoughtful and methodical about the way we go about it.
“Everything would have to be underpinned by player safety and player well-being. We will take on board a lot of guidance from the doctors.
“It would not be straight back into it. There would be a real consultative process about how we take care of the players’ needs through the process.”
Proudfoot, who joined England for their aborted Six Nations campaign, flew back to Cape Town to be with his family at the start of lockdown, but is planning to return to the UK as soon as possible.
Currently, his role is entailing making contact with individual players on a daily basis, and working with England’s strength and conditional team to fashion bespoke programmes to aid their return to full fitness.
Proudfoot added: “Rather than a generic programme that most teams would follow, we’ve tried to look at the player from an holistic point of view – where could we improve him in his home environment where we couldn’t have improved him in camp?
“Contact training is something that is going to take a bit of time. Once we can start training in smaller groups and institute smaller group situations, things can start to change a little bit.”
Despite his brief opportunity to avail himself of Jones’ methods, Proudfoot insists he has already noticed fundamental differences in approach which excite him moving forward.
“What’s been very different for me is the way Eddie produces his system,” added Proudfoot. “It’s very much about wanting to build the best environment and he pushes every part of the department to be the best they can be.
“His preparation is exceptional – how holistically he prepares a team – where the Springbok side really just focused on what their model was. It’s been an eye-opener for me and a process I’ve had to learn and grow.”