LYON, France -- The Wallabies say they have addressed their woeful kicking from the shock loss to Fiji, so too the breakdown inaccuracy that contributed to a horror 18-7 penalty count against them, as Eddie Jones peppers his coaching staff with 4.30a.m. texts.
Australia will face Wales on Sunday night in Lyon [Monday morning AEST] knowing anything but a win will see them exit the Rugby World Cup in the pool stage for the very first time in Wallabies history. Such a result would be an embarrassing new low for the code Down Under, even though much of this tournament's focus has been geared for the 2027 event in Australia.
But that is no excuse for their efforts so far, not just at this World Cup but in the lead-up to it, with Jones having presided over a 1-6 record to start his second coming as Wallabies coach.
Still, assistant coach Neal Hatley says Jones remains as dialled in as ever, with the coach working almost round the clock, literally, to ensure the Wallabies maintain their World Cup quarterfinal streak into a 10th tournament.
"I have to be honest with you, I worked with him for five years, 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 half-past four this morning. That's how he works. He's got great belief in preparation and leaving no stone unturned and that's starting to reflect through the group.
"As a coach, I'd rather not be in the position but these are the weeks that you coach for. Where you're playing for all the marbles. I'd love to be in a position where we've won 10 from 10 and we've qualified and everything, but these are great coaching weeks. And I think they're great playing weeks.
"I've seen a real response from the two lads up here and from the rest of the group. They understand what's on the game and no one is shying away from it. We know what we're playing for, and these are great weeks to be involved in. This is sport at the highest level in the biggest tournament that comes around every four years."
Last Sunday's 22-15 loss was Australia's first in 69 years against Fiji and while the Pacific Islanders were exceptionally good, playing a very non-Fiji style of game, Australia were their own worst enemy for large parts of the match as they kicked away good attacking ball.
Vice-captain Tate McDermott, who is expected to take again skipper the Wallabies having done so for the first time in Bledisloe II, says Australia reviewed their errant kicking from the Saint-Etienne clash, with the guilty individuals putting their hands up and taking responsibility for poor decisions.
While he did not specify exactly who had done that, each of Nic White, Samu Kerevi and Jordan Petaia kicked away good attacking ball just as Australia had started to build continuity inside Fijian territory.
"I'd say it's got to be a decision from the individual," McDermott said. "We definitely don't want to play footy in our own half and that's generally every team. So for us we've got to be a lot smarter with those kicks because against team like Wales all you do is you are giving them possession, so you've got to make it a contest.
"If it's a contest or if it's not going into touch, you're essentially just handing them the ball and a team like Wales they'll make you pay for that. So we've addressed some of those kicks. Then we'll be looking to be a lot better this weekend in this space."
Australia's other big issue against the Fijians was their breakdown, particularly on the attacking side of the ball, where they did not adjust to the lightning-quick release focus of referee Andrew Brace.
Time and time again the Wallabies either missed their first clean or did not get enough numbers to the ball, which played into the hands of the Fijians who had clearly come prepared to disrupt Australia's ball at the tackle.
"To lose that many breakdown turnovers, disappointing. Sometimes it's not just the ruck, it's the carry, it's how we present the ball so there's a lot more to it than just one thing," Hatley said. "We've been pretty good with that in the other games.
"We looked at one or two other areas that we thought were going to be really important against Fiji and you prioritise those in a week and we probably should have prioritised a bit more on the ruck because it's always important, there's 150, 160 of them in a game.
"But it's not just one thing, it's not late support...it's sort of a combination of different things. But that's our responsibility, how we set training up in the week to make sure we get those bits right."
Referee Brace certainly wasted little time pinging the attacking side in Saint-Etienne when an opposition player got over the ball, ruling hands on the ball, rather than a lift and an actual attempt at the turnover, to be deserving of a penalty when other referees might afford the attacking team more time.
Wayne Barnes, who is genuinely regarded as one of the best whistleblowers in the game, if not the best, will take charge of Australia's clash with Wales in Lyon on Sunday. The Wallabies have recent experience under Barnes given the Englishman refereed Bledisloe I, with his preference to be for games to have more continuity, which may well favour Australia after their woeful breakdown performance from last weekend.
"Even some of the refereeing is contest versus continuity. Some of the refs like a real big contest at the breakdown, some of them it's a bit more continuity. So you've got to work that out really quickly and adapt on the day," Hatley said of the differences in how the breakdown could be refereed.
"Lalakai Foketi got a real big turnover that set us up for the try with nine minutes to go to make it a seven-point game. Lalakai forced that turnover. So you'll get them across the board, particularly sides like Fiji. One to 15 they've got very capable [players] of getting over the ball. We've got Lalakai, we've got Marika, Suli Vunivalu picks them up so there's threats across the pitch now, it's not just in two or three positions."
It may be, too, that a win alone might not be good enough to send Australia to the knockout stage, given Pool C rivals Wales and Fiji have both picked up vital bonus points so far. The Wallabies were fortunate to snatch a losing bonus point against Fiji following Frank Lomani's late miss, but with Simon Raiwalui's team having the luxury of playing both Portugal and Georgia after the week off, and Wales still to face the Europeans, there is an element of the unknown as Australia prepare to face Warren Gatland's team.
Still, McDermott said Australia were focused on getting the win, with any bonus point being exactly that.
"There's always context to that kind of stuff. We're aware of the bonus point situation," McDermott said. "But at the forefront of our mind is a performance that actually puts us in a position to be able to capitalise on those points.
"So we've done it every week, we've put ourselves in that position, we haven't been good enough. Whether it's the breakdown, whether it's the last pass. So for us, we've got a game plan that gets us to the right spots. "We've just got to make sure we're clinical enough at the breakdown and we're clear in our minds exactly what we want to do when we get down there.
"But yeah, to answer your question, we're across that, the bonus point, but we're thinking about getting the victory first and foremost."