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Coronavirus 'bigger than rugby' for Ford as uncertainty grips Six Nations

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Bagshot (United Kingdom) (AFP)

George Ford has no problem accepting there are things that are "more critical than us playing in a rugby game" after the coronavirus forced the postponement of England's Six Nations finale away to Italy.

Thursday's announcement that the March 14 match at Rome's Stadio Olimpico would not go ahead as scheduled threatened to wreak havoc with the 2020 edition of the Championship after Saturday's match between Ireland and Italy had already been postponed for similar reasons of public health in response to the deadly global outbreak of COVID-19.

So congested is rugby union's fixture schedule, the delayed matches may not be played until the next European season.

Administrators will want the games to go ahead eventually, if only because they cannot afford the financial hit that comes with cancellation.

England's penultimate match against Wales at Twickenham on Saturday is set to be played, however, and fly-half Ford said the situation was similar to the one the squad encountered during last year's World Cup in Japan where their final group match was called off due to Typhoon Hagibis.

"When we were in Japan there was the typhoon," Ford said. "There are bigger things that are more critical than us playing in a rugby game. There are important things other than playing against Wales.

"You speak about family all the time and there are things that happen in your life all the time."

- 'Only focused on Wales' -

Meanwhile, the Leicester fly-half insisted England's preparations for the Wales match had been unaffected.

"It's hard to believe, but we're genuinely just concentrating on the game on Saturday first and foremost," Ford said. "It will be a tough enough challenge as it is."

His comments were echoed by England coach Eddie Jones, who said: "The only thing I'm focused on is Wales. There's going to be 82,000 people yelling and screaming, knowing we're going to play a really tough, positive game of rugby."

England saw their hopes of a Grand Slam last year dashed by a 21-13 loss to Wales in Cardiff after Jones' men had led 10-3 at half-time.

Instead it was Wales who won the 2019 Six Nations with a clean sweep, although Jones said the defeat helped propel England to a World Cup final where they lost 32-12 to South Africa in Yokohama.

"You never like to lose to Wales -- and we lost last year," said Jones. "We were in the position we were in at half-time and we've learnt from that.

"That was one of the key games that got us in our best condition for the World Cup. It's still a game that I'm sure irks every player who played in it. It certainly irks me."

The postponement of the Italy match means Saturday could see England bidding farewell to lock George Kruis, reportedly considering an offer from Japanese club rugby and assistant coach Steve Borthwick, who will be joining Premiership club Leicester.

"George is fantastic. Great team man, great work rate. Couldn't ask for a bloke who plays tougher for the team," Jones said.

Turning to his longtime assistant Borthwick, a former England captain, the Australian added: "Steve's been an unbelievable servant for English rugby. He's done a great job for the team for the last five years.

"He's going to turn out to be an outstanding coach."

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