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Focused Australia primed for "Grand Final" against Uruguay

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By Ian Ransom

FUKUOKA, Japan (Reuters) – Having had the best part of a week to process the anger, disappointment and confusion of their World Cup defeat to Wales, Australia are looking forward to getting back into the thick of it against Uruguay in Oita on Saturday.

Already fuming over the three-game suspension of winger Reece Hodge after the Fiji opener, the Wallabies were enraged after their 29-25 loss to Wales in Tokyo, with coach Michael Cheika condemning refereeing decisions and claiming World Rugby had made the game unappealing for fans.

Leaving the neon and clamour of the Japanese capital behind them, Australia have pledged only to focus on the much-improved South Americans as they seek to get their World Cup on a firmer footing on the southwestern island of Kyushu.

“It’s obviously disappointing with the result we had (against Wales) but essentially now it’s Grand Final week for us,” prop James Slipper told reporters, using the traditional Australian term for a championship decider.

“Both teams have to win. We’re preparing like that every game. So, for us, it’s just about getting back into work, training hard, making sure we come out and win the game.”

The Wales loss was hardly terminal for the Wallabies’ hopes of a third World Cup triumph but it may mean a tougher quarter-final opponent against the winner of Pool C, rather than that group’s runner-up.

England lead Pool C ahead of second-placed France.

While Cheika said Hodge’s ban for a high tackle against Fiji had fed an “us and them” mentality in the group, utility back Matt Toomua felt it was time to move on.

“I wouldn’t say that’s the feeling within camp in the sense that we’re thinking everyone is against us,” said Toomua, who will start at inside centre after being a substitute flyhalf in the opening two games.

“We lost on the weekend because we were the worst of the two teams.

“That’s where our focus has been.”

With Benard Foley unable to nail down the number 10 jersey against Wales, Christian Lealiifano has been brought back with scrumhalf Nic White.

Having played Michael Hooper and David Pocock as dual openside flankers in their back row against Fiji and Wales, the Wallabies have shelved the “Pooper” combination for Uruguay.

Captain Hooper remains but Jack Dempsey makes his World Cup debut at number eight, with Lukhan Salakaia-Loto starting on the blindside.

Dempsey said the ball-fetching of Hooper and Pocock had not been rewarded by the World Cup referees but the Wallabies would continue to compete hard for turnovers.

“It’s definitely not something that we’re hesitant about,” he said.

The match will also be a special day for Indigenous Australian fullback Kurtley Beale, with Australia set to wear their indigenous strip for the first time at a World Cup and only the third time ever.

Uruguay lit up the tournament with their early upset of Fiji in Kamaishi but came back down to earth with a 33-7 reverse against Georgia on Sunday.

With Fiji thrashing the Georgians 45-10 earlier on Thursday, ‘Los Teros’ will need to win at least one of their last two games against Australia and Wales to finish third in the group and realise their goal of qualifying directly for the next World Cup.

Centre Andres Vilaseca will lead Uruguay in a much reshuffled starting 15, with regular captain-flanker Juan Manuel Gaminara starting on the bench.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Toby Davis)

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