England hosting Ireland at Twickenham this Saturday with the country back in lockdown is a situation not lost on head coach Eddie Jones who revealed the hardship which the family of one unnamed player in his squad is going through due to the restrictions. 

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Jones’ side are preparing to play their third match in recent weeks, having followed up their title-clinching Six Nations win in Rome last month with last Saturday’s opening round Autumn Nations Cup win over Georgia in a new tournament which the England boss claims he has relished due to its different format compared to November’s traditional friendlies.   

Rugby in England received a badly needed bailout on Thursday valued at £135million from the UK Government. Of that, £44m will go to the Rugby Football Union, £59m to Premiership Rugby clubs, £9m to clubs in the Championship and £23m to clubs below the Championship.

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Ellis Genge on Jamie George scoring an England hat-trick last weekend

It’s a timely windfall as lockdown restrictions will see England again play at an empty Twickenham for the second successive Saturday. However, Jones insisted it was better to play in front of no-one than not play at all given the ongoing spread of the virus.      

“We are just grateful for the opportunity to play top-level rugby, the highest level of rugby in the environment now where things are so difficult,” he said after announcing an XV showing four changes, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill replacing Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels and Jack Willis.    

“You just have got to have a look at the number of people that are being infected each day with the coronavirus, the number of people dying each day. I was talking to one of our players who in their family three people lost their jobs. 

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“It’s a difficult time and for us to have the opportunity to play rugby is absolutely fantastic. We’d like to have crowds. That would be the No1 target but playing games without crowds is the normal at the moment – and we are enjoying the normal.”

England were originally due to host New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Australia on successive weekends during November. The pandemic, though, scratched that plan and instead resulted in the formulation of the one-off Autumn Nations Cup that has given Jones’ side tournament games against Georgia, Ireland, Wales and one to be confirmed opponent.

It’s made for quite a change from their traditional schedule at this time of year. “It’s fantastic,” said Jones of the change. “As I said before we are so grateful for the opportunity to play. It’s a different format.Every game counts because it puts you in a situation where you are either in the last weekend in the main game or in the U10s kick-off time. You want to be in the main game and that is where we are aiming to be. 

“We’re enjoying the format greatly. Whether this takes the place of southern hemisphere teams coming, no-one knows that. I don’t think the medical people around the world know where we are going to be twelve months’ time, so we will just wait and see.” 

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