Exclusive: Chris Robshaw inspired by Eddie Jones' great expectations

Eddie Jones wants hunger from his England team. A restless existence of continual and unwavering improvement; he talks of making the squad uncomfortable, no player guaranteed their spot in the team.

All those qualities he desires are personified by Chris Robshaw; the man who has weathered everything English rugby has endured and enjoyed over the last six years.

Robshaw is preparing for his sixth Six Nations having missed last year's through injury. And a niggling back complaint could yet rob him of his chance to face Italy on Feb. 4, for what would be his 60th cap for England.

The good news is that judging from Jones' messages on Wednesday, the back-rower is paddling -- quite literally -- back to fitness.

"He did a water aerobics class with a bunch of Portuguese women yesterday. Apparently he was the best in class," Jones said, with his usual drop of mischief.

The back has been an annoyance for a little while but he tweaked it further earlier this month. He is now in Portugal on England's pre-championship training camp, and although unavailable for contact training, Robshaw continues to push himself with an ever-present hunger for improvement.

"Training is very intense and Eddie does work us very hard," Robshaw told ESPN. "There's a reason behind it, he's trying to get us in the best possible shape so when we hit the field we're ready.

"He'll go around the country and look at methods from different coaches so whether that's recovery, new exercises, whatever it be it's to get small percentages to make England the best rugby side it can be.

"He challenges you to get better; he's never happy and as a player I want to achieve more and get better. There are aspects of your game you aren't happy with and I want to work at that."

The Jones-Robshaw relationship started on unsteady ground when he was removed as captain having been previously described by then-Japan coach Jones during the 2015 Rugby World Cup as a "six-and-a-half at best."

Just a little over two years on and Robshaw is England's glue, having been chosen as the team's best player of their Grand Slam championship triumph in 2016.

Last November he co-captained the team against Samoa, from openside. He had come full circle under Jones, the man he feels is forever driving improvement.

"For me he's probably got the best man management skills out of anyone I've met," Robshaw said. "It's little bits of encouragement, you just want that support from the top guys. He gives me great confidence and allows me to go out and play.

"In return I want to improve, work on my game. He gives me little goals to work on, whether it's improving something like lineout jumping or lifting, rucking or whatever it be, he knows what he wants out of the players."

Robshaw is one of the leadership group, one of a select band of more battle-hardened players who drive inner-squad culture and standards. He will be the one to give the younger generation a steer here and there, and joining him in Portugal are two uncapped Harlequins teammates.

Lewis Boyce could well make his Test debut against Italy with England missing four looseheads, and Robshaw describes him as a prop who "has found the dark arts of scrummaging" but is "hungry for knowledge".

Then there is the fiercely talented fly-half Marcus Smith, unlikely to make his England debut in the near future but improving and driven by a similar thirst for nous.

"Marcus has been extremely impressive this season for a guy straight from school," Robshaw said. "He's come on, he's confident but he's not arrogant. He gets on with things, he learns, he's hungry for success and willing to put the work in.

"He's always on the pitch doing extras to his game, whether it's doing one-on-one tackling with Jamie Roberts -- Jamie's taken him under his wing doing that as he's not the biggest lad -- and he's holding his own. He's working on that every single day and week and that's the attitude I like in him.

"I'm a big believer that you don't have to be out there for hours, it's just five to 10 minutes each day on certain aspects of his skills which help improve you as a player. You don't have to be out there for three hours, but little and often is key."

If Robshaw's back improves then he will likely start against Italy, and potentially even at No. 8 given both Nathan Hughes and Billy Vunipola are absent. He cannot recall the last time he started at the back of the scrum but has experience there given the unpredictable nature of the game.

Like Smith, Robshaw is putting the time in after training. "You do little bits of base work, control on the ball, in case something does happen so you're ready."

He has been around long enough not to issue a hopeful claim for the vacant No. 8 shirt, but in his own understated way would happily fill in there if required.

"You just want to be playing don't you and in whatever situation, you want to be in that starting line up and if not, then you want to be a finisher."

England head into the Six Nations as the bookies' favourites, despite Jones' attempts to play down their chances.

Robshaw knows they have a target on their backs following their recent success in the championship, but then returns that hunger. England are not sitting still, and neither is the man who knows the importance of constantly striving for improvement, and success.

"Eddie is always challenging us to get better and improve," Robshaw said. "That's the thing. We are in a different position to when he came in, or last year, pressure changes, situations change and we have to learn to evolve and deal with it.

"Every year is different, and there'll be a different mindset to last year or the year before. We'll be going out there to do our best and make some history."