Matt Proudfoot believes Scotland has closed the gap on South Africa in the two decades since his playing days because of the superior structures that were put in place when the sport went professional and few are better placed to make that assessment.

The Springboks assistant coach, is a man with four Scotland caps to his name and as he sat down for a chat yesterday he let out a contented sight and said: “It’s good to be ho… I almost said it.”

Let’s just call the part of the world to which he has returned a home-from-home, then, for the 20 stone South African-born prop who arrived in the country from which his grandfather had emigrated, to join Melrose in the mid-nineties and found himself at the heart of experimentation, playing for the Borders, then for Edinburgh Reivers after four districts became two teams.

The relationships formed in those days mean he will spend his team’s day off back in Melrose today with Carl Hogg, the former team-mate from that era who is now Scotland under-20 coach and whom he still describes as his best friend while he is hoping to catch up with Hogg’s famous uncle Jim Telfer, the coach who was Scotland’s director of rugby at the time. It was, as Proudfoot remembers it, on Telfer’s say so that his original recruitment by Melrose was approved and it is a time he recalls with great fondness.

“They were special times,” he said. “I came over with memories of a grandfather who brought me up on Five Nations rugby. I have fond memories of the David Sole side, with Tony Stanger scoring his try on the right wing. Those were my memories as an English-speaking boy in South Africa at that time.

“When I came here and got given my opportunity it was like living a dream, living an adventure. That’s what made it special. We were travelling up and down to Wales on the bus. It was the real, real start of the professional era. It was really enjoyable. Even though you were on a bus for 12 hours, you were on a bus with your mates.

“Rugby is about memories. You spend a very short time of your life doing what you love with your best mates. It was adventure, something new and that’s what was great about it. When you are involved in rugby you are a custodian of the game for the next generation and if you leave it in a better state than you found it those memories are happy memories.”

Rooming with Gregor Townsend, the current Scotland head coach, he made his Test debut in one of the worst performances in the national team’s history as they conceded 51 points to Fiji. That tour took place in between two thrashings for Scotland from the country he had left, the 68-10 loss which remains the team’s biggest ever margin of defeat in 1997, followed in the autumn of 1998 by an only slightly less uncomfortable 35-10 hammering from the Springboks.

As Scotland struggled to adjust to professionalism scores of that sort were by no means uncommon, New Zealand twice surpassing 60 points, France passing the half century in a Five Nations encounter in 1998 and Australia, on that aforementioned tour which began with the Fiji mauling, running in 78 points in the ensuing two-Test series.

Yet last weekend’s results took Scotland above the Wallabies in the world rankings while a win over the Springboks on Saturday would take them above them too and into the top five and, in defiance of what is sometimes presented as conventional wisdom within traditional Scottish clubs, Proudfoot believes the secret of that success lies in the decision made in those early days of professionalism, to pursue the district route, ultimately focussing on developing two full-time professional teams.

“‘The good thing is the utilisation of the franchises, how the resources have been utilised,” he reckons.

‘Anywhere in the world, we’d want more teams and more players, but can you sustain that? Scotland have reached a point where the model is sustainable. Speak to the players and a lot of the coaches, you see how ex-players are utilised, the production line is working.

“Back then, they always spoke about the golden thread. Can a player anywhere in the Scottish system get into the national set-up? I think that is working and, if you just look at how Edinburgh and Glasgow are competing on the European stage, that proves it’s really, really working.

“Back in South Africa, we’re really struggling with the format at the moment. Are we going to get bigger or smaller? I think yourselves and Ireland have definitely got it right.

“The idea of the amateur game is still healthy. Club rugby needs to be viable but it’s a different model to the professional game. They’ve managed to separate the two and make it sustainable.”

Once those observations have been circulated there will probably be more than a few who fancy having a word with the big Jock Bok as he tours the Borders today… well, at least until they clap eyes on him they might.