Six Nations: Nothing less than a Grand Slam will be good enough for Jones

A big year for England coach Eddie Jones
A big year for England coach Eddie Jones
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Ralph Ellis takes a look into 2018 and how England must move forward in search of their ultimate goal to win the next World Cup.

"Jones and his players need to take the next steps, and the first of them must be to set the target that nothing less than an England Grand Slam will be acceptable."

Eddie Jones is already big in Japan. His exploits as their coach made him a legend, his face beams out in adverts for investment firm Goldman Sachs, his status is one of the reasons the organisers of the next World Cup there believe they will more than meet their target of selling 1.8 million tickets.

Not much of that, however, will matter to the hugely driven Australian if come the autumn of 2019 he hasn't made England big in Japan too.

He has a huge opportunity. Since taking over a squad that had been a shambles in the 2015 competition under Stuart Lancaster, he's brought new attitude, drive and confidence.

Just one defeat in 22 Tests has transformed the picture, created huge competition for places in the squad never mind the starting side, and raised real hopes that this is an England team which can end the All Blacks era of total dominance.

Even New Zealand legend Richie McCaw has named Jones and his players as the biggest threat to his country making it a hat-trick of World Cup wins.

So now they need to take the next steps, and the first of them must be to set the target that nothing less than a Six Nations Grand Slam will be acceptable.

England are [2.9] to succeed this year where they failed last, memorably beaten 13-8 in Ireland when they could have set a world record for consecutive victories.

Jones was naming his party today for a two-day training camp in Brighton next week as the first stage of preparations for the Six Nations, in which England will start odds-on at [1.99] to retain their trophy.

But to be seen as making progress, they have to do more than simply hold off the challenge of Ireland [3.6] and the ever-improving Scots [9.2]. They have to beat all-comers and do it convincingly so they can take the confidence into next year's Autumn internationals when they are scheduled to come up against the All Blacks.

This will be an intriguing year in the Southern Hemisphere. Steve Hansen used 55 players in just 14 matches in 2017, lost two and drew one, and the side that was the platinum standard for international sport has shown a few weaknesses.

In the club game the big question will be whether champions Exeter Chiefs can hold off the challenge of Saracens to retain their Aviva Premiership trophy.

Rob Baxter's team have built a 10 point lead in the table after a crushing win at Northampton on Boxing Day and are [1.31] to keep that rolling when they play Leicester on Sunday.

Baxter, who has driven what was a tiny West Country club in the Championship through continuous improvements since he took over in 2009, is already being touted as the natural successor to Jones after the World Cup.

When Exeter won the title last year it was viewed as something of a surprise. This time they are growing ever more dominant and while I've been a big admirer of the power and depth of Saracens squad, you can't help thinking that the Chiefs at [2.44] are a better bet than Sarries [2.0] as Grand Final winners as things stand.

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