Wood calls for England perspective
Tom Wood insists England must not overreact to the pressure building after succumbing to a fifth successive defeat in Saturday's 31-28 setback against South Africa.
Seven days after New Zealand departed Twickenham convincing winners, Stuart Lancaster's men were flattered by the scoreline once again as concerns continue to mount with just 10 games remaining until the launch of next year's World Cup.
All five losses have been inflicted by the All Blacks and Springboks, the sport's top two sides, but in the second QBE International England wilted before opponents who performed well below their best.
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," the Northampton flanker 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.
"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."
Lancaster already planned to make changes against Samoa on Saturday, but there are now worrying levels of uncertainty in multiple positions with not a single player in the back line guaranteed their World Cup spot.
Half-backs Danny Care and Owen Farrell were poor once again and will surely make way for Ben Youngs and George Ford, while number eight Billy Vunipola and Wood himself are likely to be missing from the team announced on Wednesday.
Apart from making those adjustments on form, Lancaster is also ready to freshen up his matchday 23 as he explores other options and combinations.
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."