Eddie Jones has headed into this weekend’s Six Nations finale fearing rugby has become a laughing stock due to last weekend’s farcical cancellation of the England vs Barbarians match.

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That call-off resulted in 13 Baas-Baas players – including ex-England skipper Chris Robshaw – getting charged on Thursday by the RFU with misconduct for breaking coronavirus protocols.

An investigation found that there were two unsanctioned breaches of the protective hotel bubble that had been placed around the invitational club side to ensure there was no Covid-19 threat to the game taking place, and it has now forced the cash-strapped RFU to take action after the cancellation cost them a reputed £1million in much-needed revenue.

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“The players will face a range of charges including: Individual breaches of the protocols (e.g. leaving the hotel without permission or without informing organisers of their whereabouts); Providing false statements during an investigation,” read an RFU statement.

The fiasco deprived England of the planned warm-up match ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations game in Rome and it left a sour taste with coach Jones, who hit out at the antics of the Barbarians. 

“We understand that rugby at the moment is a bit of a laughing stock and we all love the game,” said Jones after he announced an XV to face the Italians that has seven changes from England’s March win over Wales and includes a debut for lock Jonny Hill. 

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“We’re lucky enough to play the game at the highest level and we want to make sure we put the game back to where it needs to be. We have got a great game in rugby and we don’t like to see it portrayed as something that is not a serious sport, as it has been. 

“We understand those responsibilities. It’s a weight we carry and it’s a weight that we enjoy to carry… no one likes to see a game called off because of a breakdown in the protocols in society at the moment. That’s what happened. It’s not good for rugby, but we have got an opportunity on Saturday to turn that around. 

It’s been a difficult time for society. People have lost their jobs and people have lost family members, so we feel absolutely privileged to have the opportunity to play top-level rugby. Our responsibility is to put a smile on people’s faces. We would like to make people happy for a period of time that maybe takes away some of the pain of society at the moment. 

“The players have approached this camp with a zest for the game that I have probably never seen before. There is a real desire to do that,” he continued, going on to reference Australian cricket as an example as to how a negative story can be turned into a positive one.

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“History shows that sport changes quickly. If you look at the situation with the Australian cricket team and the sandpaper, that time was not a great time for cricket and it was not a great time for Australian cricket. 

“But now people have forgotten that – and it’s our responsibility to make sure we put on performances so that people don’t remember what happened a couple of weeks ago.”

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