The 4.30am text that proves World Cup intent

If Australia scrum coach Neal Hatley was in any doubt that there were some long days of hard work ahead for the Wallabies at the Rugby World Cup, he was put right very early on Thursday.

Hatley’s first message from head coach Eddie Jones pinged on his phone at 4.30am, he said.

Up and at it.

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Australia is staring at an early Rugby World Cup exit after its surprise loss to Fiji on Monday put it out of the quarterfinal places in Pool C, with possibly an even tougher meeting with pool leader Wales next.

Before knuckling down to the next challenge, scrumhalf Tate McDermott said there was a brutally honest talk among the players following the loss to the Fijians in Saint-Etienne, which was the Wallabies’ sixth defeat in seven games since Jones returned from England for a second spell in charge of his home country late last year.

“The leadership group took the boys aside and we had a couple of honest admissions, around boys putting their hand up and (saying) ‘That’s not what we stand for, that’s not good enough,'” McDermott said. “The honesty in the group was awesome to see because, yeah, it was a tough watch and we had to call that out.”

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Australia has never failed to make it to the quarter-finals at the Rugby World Cup, and the two-time champion faces a must-win against Wales on Sunday, ideally with a bonus point, to keep from slipping toward that dreaded fate. It would be particularly hard to take amid a difficult run of form.

Much of the focus has been on Jones, who has so far failed to right Australia’s slump after his celebrated return. Hatley said effort and hard graft from the boss wasn’t the problem, as shown by Jones getting into his work very early every day.

“I have to be honest with you, I’ve worked with him for five years and he’s sharp every day,” Hatley said.

“That’s not blowing smoke up his backside, he’s just that sort of individual. He leaves no stone unturned. My first message came through at about 4.30 this morning. That’s how he works.

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“Eddie has had a much closer look at where he believes Australian rugby is and what it needs to move forwards. I’ve got a huge amount of faith in the plan he puts up.”

Amid the positives for Australia are the return of first-choice No.9 McDermott after a concussion in the first half in the opening World Cup win over Georgia ruled him out against Fiji.

Also back in contention to play is big tighthead prop Pone Fa’amausili, who injured a calf in Australia’s first training session in France and hasn’t appeared yet at this Rugby World Cup.

His six-foot-four, 130-kilogram frame might help the Wallabies in one area Hatley picked out as needing work: The breakdown, where too many turnovers were surrendered to Fiji.

Unkindly referred to as once a “hippo on roller skates”, Fa’amausili has become Australia’s most improved player, according to Hatley.

“Obviously a slow start to the campaign but I’m ready to go this week and rip in,” Fa’amausili said.

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