Jean de Villiers (File)
Johannesburg - South Africa's players believe in the game plan employed by coach Heyneke Meyer and the environment around the team allows them the freedom to disagree, Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said on Thursday.
Meyer has been criticised in South Africa for a rigid game plan revolving around forwards bashing the ball up to get over the gain line, with the backline generally used to implement the kicking and territory games the Boks have used in recent years.
South Africa won their opening Rugby Championship match against Argentina in Cape Town, before being held to a shock draw last weekend in Mendoza by the debutants in the southern hemisphere competition formerly known as the Tri-Nations.
"When you don't live up to expectations then you will be criticised," De Villiers told a news conference at Soweto's Orlando Stadium.
"But the important thing is that we believe in what we are doing, we are set on a game plan that we believe can produce winning rugby.
"We definitely don't feel like it's a dictatorship. Heyneke is a new coach trying to get his message across as to how he wants us to play. But we're all grown-ups, if we disagree then we'll stand up and say so.
"We believe in what the coach is trying to do, if that changes, then I believe our environment, the system the team operates in, allows us to have the space to express our views."
While the Springboks were panned for playing one-dimensional, forward-dominated rugby against Argentina, De Villiers said he felt the backline had been more effective than they were given credit for.
"I've looked at the game again and I felt a bit better about it after that. A lot of positives can come out of that game, although there's obviously lots to work on.
"I thought we attacked really nicely at times, we created space and now the goal is to get the ball into that space. We're not always using the forwards to get momentum, sometimes we use them to take the ball up and then the next phase we'll go wide.
"But we have to make sure we protect the ball out wide and not let the opposition spoil it at the ends of the field."
The 31-year-old said discipline, the set-phases and adapting to the referee's ruck interpretations were some of the areas that needed improvement ahead of the Australasian leg of their Rugby Championship campaign.
The Boks will play matches against Australia in Perth on September 8 and New Zealand in Dunedin on September 15.
"If we were a mediocre team, then everyone would be happy with our performances, but we believe that we're a better team than we showed in Mendoza," De Villiers added.
"So these games are an opportunity to step up as a team and show what we can produce.
"We need to learn from our experiences, we can't make the same mistakes, and we are doing that - we improved from our game in Cape Town.
"But we're at 50-60 percent of where we want to be, so obviously we have to improve. The margins are very small in test rugby and it's the small things that make the difference."
Jean de Villiers (captain), Bryan Habana, Johan Goosen, Francois Hougaard, Juan de Jongh, Zane Kirchner, Patrick Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo, Ruan Pienaar, Frans Steyn, Morne Steyn, Jano Vermaak
Willem Alberts, Andries Bekker, Craig Burden, Pat Cilliers, Marcell Coetzee, Jannie du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Dean Greyling, Juandre Kruger, Tiaan Liebenberg, Francois Louw, Tendai Mtawarira, Jacques Potgieter, Adriaan Strauss, Flip van der Merwe, Duane Vermeulen