England 28-31 South Africa
Wood ready for increased scrutiny on England
ESPN Staff
November 16, 2014
Tom Wood tries to make some yards © Getty Images
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England flanker Tom Wood insists they must not overreact following their fifth successive defeat.

England slumped to a 31-28 loss to South Africa on Saturday, a defeat which followed on the heels of New Zealand's win at Twickenham last week. England have just 10 games until the 2015 Rugby World Cup and team selection, tactics and the dwindling levels of self-belief are being scrutinised closely with head coach Lancaster facing the strongest criticism of his 32-Test reign as head coach.

Lancaster, who has presided over just two victories in 13 meetings with the southern hemisphere heavyweights, has sounded a note of defiance by declaring "we'll not panic nor lose our nerve nor deviate from the course we're on".

It is a bold message shared by Wood as must-win Tests against Samoa and Australia loom on the Twickenham horizon.

"It's not the end of the world. It's disappointing to lose in an England shirt and you never want to accept that, particularly at home," Wood said. "But the fact we have lost by two really close margins in two really competitive games against the two best teams in the world doesn't mean it's back to the drawing board and that everyone is on suicide watch.

Clock ticking on error-prone England

South Africa celebrate Jan Serfontein's try © Getty Images
  • Small margins. Once again England are left clutching to 'what ifs' as they fell to another defeat to one of the southern hemisphere big three at their once formidable Twickenham fortress.
  • England dominated possession and territory but were let down by clumsy errors - knock-ons littered the first half - and again questions were raised over their kicking game and their ability to turn time on the ball into points. "We could have been smarter," was Lancaster's assessment. For the victor, Jean de Villiers summed it up neatly: "It's quality of possession rather than percentage that counts."
  • Read the verdict from Twickenham here

"We have to keep our heads high and keep believing in what we are trying to implement. We understand we will come under a lot of pressure now. The heat is going to come on from the rugby media and the rugby public.

"Everyone now relates everything to the World Cup, but all we can do is stay tight as a group and keep plugging on."

Only success against Samoa and Australia will salvage a modicum of respectability from the autumn, but first England must address evidence that they have regressed since the first half of June's second Test against New Zealand in Dunedin.

Having drawn level at 20-20 with stirring forward-generated tries by David Wilson and Ben Morgan, they allowed South Africa to pull clear with a touchdown by Schalk Burger and a penalty and drop-goal from Pat Lambie. Brad Barritt crossed in the right corner with a minute left, but the match had already been decided as the Springboks stretched their unbeaten run against England to 12 Tests dating back to 2006.

"We haven't had the real clarity and composure we needed at certain times. That's what we're not doing at the moment," Wood said. "The All Blacks and the South Africans come with big reputations and our forward pack has rolled them at times, but we need to put ourselves in the right area of the field. At certain times they have turned the heat up on us and unfortunately we have been found wanting."

An inexplicably looped pass from Care to Kyle Eastmond was intercepted by centre Jan Serfontein for a gift-wrapped score that helped South Africa into an early 10-0 lead.

"It's all very well having the ball but if you are not going anywhere with it and if you are just in the midfield you are playing into their hands. It was another harsh lesson," Wood said. "We gave them an intercept try which in a three-point game is pretty criminal. I don't hold Danny accountable for that at all. We were just meandering in midfield. We shot ourselves in the foot with that one.

"When you have got an angry, hurt South African team, really a smart move would not be giving them targets to hit early on. But we just presented them targets to hit and that is their bread and butter. We're pretty frustrated and disappointed."

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