Jean de Villiers says while the Springboks still have a strong belief in the potential of their attacking game plan, they are constantly and consciously looking for flaws in it.
The Springboks management and players have had to field a barrage of questions around the effectiveness of their game plan – widely perceived to be conservative – this week. Through their responses there has been the sense that they are united in their endorsement of it, stressing that time will refine it into the potent force they envision it becoming.
They have maintained that there are marked improvements if you review their last two performances, claiming that missed opportunities, not the inability to create them, accounted for their defeats.
De Villiers reiterated their shared vision in Johannesburg on Friday. However, when probed on the potential for them to succumb to a head the sand reaction to criticism of their approach, he said they were on guard against that.
‘When you look at the comments that Robbie Deans has made after what was obviously in-depth analysis [Deans scoffed at the notion the Springboks are predictable], it is clear they can see that there’s a change in our attacking attitude and tactics,’ De Villiers said.
‘Yes, a lot of our game plan is based on playing in the opposition’s half, but we do try and get the ball into space when the opportunities arise. We sit down after every game and ask questions like: “Are we on the right track? Are we doing the right things tactically? Can we do something differently?”
‘So it is an ongoing process of analysis. We aren’t closed to making changes if they will improve us.’
There have been some fundamental errors to date, but with a new coaching staff and a fresh influx of players, 2012 was always going to be a difficult one for the Springboks. Asked if the expectations of this group was unrealistic and needed to be tempered, De Villiers said: ‘As soon as we drop our standards and expectations of the Springboks we’re on the wrong track.
‘[The media] will always have high expectations and so will we, and sometimes we won’t live up to that. But we have the drive and we’re putting in the effort to get to our goal. We aren’t going to become the world class, world beating team overnight. But we’re getting there. As the Springboks there’s an expectation to win every Test, and when you don’t, you have to take it on the chin every now and then.’
He did, however, express the strong view that they are well on a course that will see them meet prevailing expectations.
‘We really do believe we’ve improved over the last two Tests. We haven’t got the results we’ve wanted for a number of reasons, but we’re on the right track,’ he said.
‘We believe the guys coming in can make a difference and the forwards that were selected for the previous two games made an impact. From a backline perspective, we need to catch up with them. We’ve got more experience [the backline] but we need a collective effort. Also it needs to happen for 80 minutes because soft moments in games that have cost us. The margins at this level are small. If you make one or two errors you could find yourself 10 points down and that’s what’s happened.’
The Springboks have lost seven of their last eight Tests against the Wallabies, a record De Villiers described as ‘unacceptable’. He said there was a deep resolve within the squad to end the tourist’s dominance.
‘Six of the seven games were lost by the team that represented us in the World Cup quarter-final. This team has inherited that record and our job is to turn that around.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Johannesburg