The Boks are expecting a massive confrontation with Italy’s pack in Friday night’s must-win clash at the scene of Japan’s ‘Shock in Shizuoka’ victory over Ireland.
“I would put this challenge as a forward pack on par with the All Blacks,” said Proudfoot.
“They are smart, the Italians, they’ve got a culture of scrummaging, they have got a culture of mauling – their maul is very effective – and they put a lot of heat on your lineout, contesting wise.
“They’re probably similar to what we do – they’ll try and take you on at set phase; not much place to get away from it so you’ve got to confront it.
“This is not just a brawn game, there’s going to be a lot of brain going into this plan and then execution under pressure is going to be the key. We give their pack absolute respect like we would England or New Zealand. We’ve got a massive job on the weekend.”
The qualification equation is very simple (even if the application of force mechanics at the set piece is being given forensic interrogation by the respective packs) because the loser of the match is likely to miss out on a place in the quarter-finals.
“This is probably the most important test we have played in a while,” said Proudfoot, “and this is what it is all coming going to – it’s this one game and that’s what matters to us.”
Proudfoot said that Italy had probably targeted this match as their ‘Get Out Of Pool’ card from the moment the draw was made.
“They have had two years to prepare for this game,” he said.
“And they have had eight days since their last game so they will be up for it. It’s going to be a fantastic Test. As we get later in this competition, the Tests are just going to get more and more important.
“For both of us this is a very desperate situation; they are going to be extremely desperate; extremely hungry and this is their opportunity, so we have got to be good.”
Proudfoot believes that that outcome is entirely within the compass of the current Springbok forward pack.
“We’ve got incredible forwards in this squad and I say it as such as it is a squad of forwards – 17 of them,” he said.
“It’s just a privileged position to be working with these guys. They are very intelligent, they work very hard for each other, they back each other.
“We’re working towards a very specific plan. What’s pleasing for me is to see how, irrespective of what front row starts and in what combination, the guys are just boosting each other and looking to execute the plan.”
The Springboks have had 100 percent scrum and lineout execution to date.
“I’m really happy with the guys’ fundamentals; our binds have been very good, our body heights have been good, we don’t have a lot of resets – which allows the guys to then build for dominance,” he said.
“That’s been the pleasing factor for me that even though we rotate, the guys have still got those fundamentals really, really sharp and the pack has still been able to work.
“This is a hungry pack; this is a pack that’s looking to enforce itself so it’s a massive aspect in the game.
“Both set phases at World Cup time have been huge talking points, so I’m really pleased with what the forwards are doing.
“We are going to have to be very smart as a pack of forwards and have very good plans. What has been challenging in the way that it brings us reward is to see how teams evolve within a game.
“They bring you a certain aspect say at scrum time and 20 minutes later they change their plan and you have to adapt, and these guys are the same. They don’t just bring you one picture, they keep changing it.
“And that’s why I’ve emphasised it’s not just a game of trying to out-muscle or ‘out-physical’ your opponent – it’s understanding the challenge that they are presenting on your phase at that particular moment.”
Meanwhile Proudfoot gave an upbeat prognosis on Jesse Kriel’s recovery from a bang on the hamstring.
“He is progressing really, really well,” said Proudfoot, “and we hope to have him up for selection this week.
“Jesse will be tested through the week, it was obviously conservative treatment last week and this week they’ll progress it to field work so we will know how he responds in the week but we hope to have him up for selection.”