Johannesburg - Matt Proudfoot’s dramatic return to the Springbok fold as assistant coach in charge of the forwards this week was a spectacular triumph of his strategy to wear SA Rugby (Saru) down by playing a patient long game.
Proudfoot, who played the same role under previous Bok coach Allister Coetzee before the latter’s acrimonious exit in February, was expected to leave Saru’s employ with the man who brought him in – but he had other ideas.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source said Proudfoot caught Saru and Coetzee’s replacement Rassie Erasmus off-guard by insisting he wanted to stay.
“He [Proudfoot] reminded them that he had a contract that would only expire in 2019. He also told them he was committed to the Boks and to helping them win next year’s World Cup,” said the source.
“He worked very hard to convey that message by turning up at the office every day and asking Rassie how he could help. I think they found that hard to deal with. Rassie didn’t know what to do with him.”
According to the source, Coetzee asked Proudfoot to join him at Canon Eagles after he was appointed as the team’s head coach last month.
“Although they are good friends, Matt felt like he had been with him [Coetzee] for too long. He wanted to go to the World Cup and establish himself as a head coach.”
Back at Saru, Proudfoot was told to go help Varsity Cup teams with their forwards while his Bok management colleagues travelled with the Super Rugby sides because “Rassie didn’t want him there because he felt he had [his own forwards coach] Pieter [de Villiers] – the whole thing took them by surprise”.
Proudfoot’s approach forced Saru to consider using him as an assistant coach or pay him out. Having paid to part ways with Coetzee, the latter was prohibitive.
The source implied that Proudfoot’s positivity and willingness to help had the effect of bemusing Saru as much as it endeared him to them.
However, Proudfoot’s upbeat attitude had its limits. According to the source, Proudfoot wanted to leave at the end of February. Part of this had to do with the fact that Erasmus asked him not to come in after he completed his coaching stint with the Varsity Cup teams.
“But Matt wanted them to finalise things, so he had a meeting with [chief executive] Jurie Roux and Rassie on March 28. That is when they decided to let him join the Bok management team. They had a camp that weekend and Rassie broke the news to the rest of the management team. Pieter [de Villiers] said he wanted out.”
Saru announced De Villiers’ departure and Proudfoot’s return on Friday.
According to the statement, the former France international could “no longer continue in that role because of pressing family commitments”.
The source believes De Villiers might have been unsettled by the fact that Proudfoot was digging in his heels.
“Pieter’s a quiet guy who doesn’t like the limelight and prefers to work as a consultant. Maybe the thought of looking at Matt’s face all day and possibly having to disagree about work didn’t appeal to him.