Six Nations Betting: Eddie's aim is that only a Grand Slam is good enough

Fit again Mike Brown leads the way in England training
Fit again Mike Brown leads the way in England training
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Last day defeat in Ireland cost Eddie Jones a second Grand Slam last year. Ralph Ellis says the England coach is determined not to miss out another time.

"England are [3.7] to repeat their 2016 Grand Slam and that strikes me as a value price. Their squad looks stronger than ever and in Maro Itoje they have that rare thing of a player who can turn matches on his own."

Eddie Jones was tapping his head in his press conference. Nothing unusual there. England rugby's head coach taps his head a lot.

Those few inches between the ears of each of his players, he believes, add up to the hard yards that create a winning team.

And his message this week was all about belief, about shutting off the external influences and having a strong and focused mind.

What Jones is upset about is the suggestion he keeps reading that England's chances of a Grand Slam this year are diminished because the fixtures rota decrees that three of their RBS Six Nations fixtures will be away from their Twickenham fortress.

England are [2.12] favourites to win the Six Nations for the third year in a row, a treble never before achieved since Italy were added to the competition in 2000.

But what interests Jones is not just winning but wiping the floor with the other five countries as he builds towards the real aim of toppling the All Blacks in the 2019 World Cup.

To that end he's set the target of a Grand Slam and won't hear of any excuses. "How can you have had so many great teams that have won this title but didn't win a Grand Slam," he asked the assembled scribes at England's Pennyhill Park training base yesterday.

"Is their skill level less (away from home), are they less fit? It is all up here (tapping forehead), so our great challenge is to be right up here."

It's an obvious message, and given the impact the Australian has had on England's rugby players since he was parachuted in following the debacle of the 2015 World Cup, one you know will be heeded.

England are [3.7] to repeat their 2016 Grand Slam and that strikes me as a value price despite those away trips to Italy, Scotland and France. Their squad looks stronger than ever with competition for places in every position, and in Maro Itoje they have that rare thing of a player who can turn matches on his own.

Itoje has defied medics by recovering from a hip injury in time to play in Rome this Sunday where the early market suggests England will be around even money to win by more than 17.5 points.

The 23-year-old Saracens lock made his debut in this fixture two years ago, having been held back from England's opening fixture because Jones didn't want to rush his development. He needn't have worried - since then Itoje has played 17 Tests for either England or the Lions and lost only two of them.

There has been more good news on the injury front for Jones with Mike Brown and Chris Robshaw also recovered from assorted minor ailments.

But it's the mentality of the overall squad rather than the availability of individual players that Jones considers will matter most.

He sees it as a black mark on England's mentality that despite six times finishing as champions in the 18 years of the current competition format, they have won the Grand Slam only twice. France and Wales have three Grand Slams each from five and four titles respectively.

If his team are going to contend for a World Cup in a year's time they need to set the standard now, and to have the solid self-belief that they can do it. I suspect we'll see Jones tapping his head plenty more.

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