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The Rugby World Cup knockout stage has started early for Australia.

On the back foot after a loss to Fiji, the Australians cannot afford to lose their third pool game — against Wales in Lyon — otherwise they’ll likely be heading for their earliest-ever exit from the tournament.

Self-introspection has gripped a proud rugby nation, which has been at a low ebb for years and is wondering whether it really was the best idea to turn in January to charismatic coach Eddie Jones to lead the Wallabies into the World Cup.

Jones has been his typical entertaining self ahead of the game — indeed for most of his nine-month second spell in charge of Australia — as he spoke in defiant terms about his confidence in his players and how he thrives in this kind of backs-to-the-wall situation.

“I love it when you’ve got to try to create a team, where everyone thinks they’re going to lose, to put themselves in a position to win,” Jones said. “I don’t know if it’s a drug but that’s the rush from coaching.”

As for the Welsh, they have some leeway — but not too much — after opening with a tight win over Fiji. Lose to Australia and the pool’s big three will have beaten each other, meaning their results and bonus points gained against Portugal and Georgia will determine which two teams advance.

As it stands, Wales has 10 points and both Fiji and Australia are on 6 after two games each.

In the other match on Sunday, Scotland and Tonga meet in Nice and get their second run-outs of the tournament after making losing starts.

The Scots have had two weeks to recover from a draining loss to South Africa on the opening weekend, while Tonga opened with a defeat to Ireland.