Former England forwards guru Matt Proudfoot believes the Springboks’ dismantling of the English scrum in 2022 cost Eddie Jones his job as head coach.
The Boks brought the curtain down on the calendar year on 27 November with a first win over England at Twickenham since 2014, built on a dominant display from the world champions in the set piece.
Jones was fired by the RFU on 6 December, with his assistant Proudfoot – now in charge of Maties in the Varsity Cup – part of a backroom clear-out by new England boss Steve Borthwick in early January.
In a wide-ranging interview with England’s Daily Mail, Proudfoot accepted responsibility for the Roses’ failures against the Boks last year, while he opened up how much of a toll Jones’ sacking took on him – he was admitted to hospital in the UK due to stress and was not discharged until three days later.
“I was shattered,” Proudfoot said. “Finding out about Eddie really hit me hard. It was a phone call from Richard Cockerill. I felt like I’d let him down. I spoke to him on the day he left and I could tell he was upset. He told me there would probably be changes so have your wits about you.
“As much as you try and handle these things, it has an effect on you. The stress leading up to the South Africa game, living away from home, alone in London, it’s a tough place to be.
“Eddie left on the Tuesday and on the Thursday I had an immune overload. Fever, joint pain, stiffness; you feel like you’re being poisoned. It was a stress response. It built up until I crashed. I phoned the team doctor at 3am and he sent for an ambulance to come and fetch me. I spent a few days in hospital. Eddie always used to say to me that the game gives you feedback. Maybe this was it.”
He added: “Once Eddie had gone you basically have a feeling [you would be fired]. The environment is different. I got a call on the Sunday evening and I knew what it was about. It was very professionally done from a HR perspective.
“Being a foreign coach in another country is a massive responsibility and a massive honour. You want to add value and if you don’t then you must get out. I was prepared for it.
“I have a lot of regret about that game [against the Boks]. The scrum didn’t fire. It felt like the 2019 final all over again. If we’d been more successful at scrum time, things would have been different. And if we’d won that game maybe we would still all be there, back in the cold weather of England.
“I feel responsible. I wouldn’t change selection but I would change the way I coached the scrum that week. Less technical, more abrasive.
“I take that on myself. I prioritised the technical side that week, changing the engagement sequence to something faster and I put speed as the big rock we were chasing. Maybe I should have chased the fight instead. I take that on myself.”