England scrum coach backs ‘Fight Club’ to tackle South Africa’s ‘Bomb Squad’

The coach who guided South Africa’s “Bomb Squad” to World Cup glory is urging his self-styled “Fight Club” of English front-row forwards to make a name for themselves at Twickenham this weekend by confronting the formidable Springbok scrummaging challenge head on.

With memories of the last meeting between the sides in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final still fresh, Matt Proudfoot, now the England scrum coach, says the untimely absence of the experienced Jamie George and Ellis Genge can be overcome on Saturday if their replacements have the right mindset and throw themselves fully into the battle against opponents who place significant reliance on their powerful scrum.

Having worked in the Bok camp under Rassie Erasmus and shared in their convincing triumph against England in Yokohama, no one needs to tell the Klerksdorp-born Proudfoot how important the scrum remains to the South African psyche, not least the role played by their “Bomb Squad” of front-row replacements in sapping the energy and spirit of opposing sides at important moments in the contest.

As yet England’s emerging front-row options of Jamie Blamire, Bevan Rodd, Trevor Davison and Nic Dolly do not have the same aura but Proudfoot is adamant that youngsters like Blamire, already the scorer of four tries in four Test appearances, have the necessary attitude to cope with the looming Springbok threat. “Like every front-row forward it’s about what is inside the man – that’s what we look for firstly,” said Proudfoot. “That’s what we identified in Jamie: a strong character and a lot of personal fight. When he came into camp in the summer we chucked him in what we term the ‘Fight Club’ – which is where the front row do a lot of extra work. The way he ripped in was really promising.

“You can go back in history and look at every great player. The first time they got the opportunity, the narrative would have been: ‘Is he ready?’ But it’s about how he grabs it. For me, on Saturday, it’s about what’s in that jersey; who is putting that white jersey on. I’ve got a lot of confidence in any of the front-rowers we’re going to pick.”

If the precise inner workings of “Fight Club” remain a state secret – “that would be breaking the first rule … front rows don’t talk about ‘Fight Club’” – Proudfoot reveals that Genge and Joe Marler, both sidelined from the Australia game with Covid, have still had a tactical input this week. Marler will officially be out of Covid isolation on Friday but will not have been able to train with the team before then.

Whoever plays, though, the 49-year-old Proudfoot, who won four caps for Scotland after qualifying courtesy of a grandmother from Dumfries, acknowledges they cannot be passive bystanders. “We know it’s going to be a fight, a battle, but you can face that in two different ways and we’re going to go right at it.
“This is the most important game of the year for us. Our mindset is to confront it, go head on and not back away from it. Playing the world champions is always a big challenge.

“They have proved over the last two years they are the best side in the world and they deserve that title. I am sure the players we will
select will be up for the challenge. The players [also] know it is Twickenham, it is their home and that is what they stand for. They will have the right mindset on Saturday.”

As it happens, another member of the victorious Springbok World Cup backroom staff, Aled Walters, has also been doing his bit recently to enhance England’s attacking game. Walters, who was born in Wales, is now employed by Leicester and has been helping the full-back Freddie Steward, the try-scoring man of the match against Australia last weekend, improve his pace. “I’ve always been aware I’ve never been the quickest but it’s something I know is necessary, particularly on the international stage,” said Steward. “Aled has been fantastic … I’ve been working really hard with him, trying to get a bit more explosive and dynamic.”

The Rugby Players’ Association has elected Vickii Cornborough as its new vice-chair, with Worcester’s Ethan Waller continuing as chair. The Harlequins and England prop is the first female player to be voted into a senior leadership role within the organisation.