England captain Dylan Hartley could return to action for Northampton on Saturday
England captain Dylan Hartley could play for the first time in six weeks when Northampton take on Castres in Saturday's European Champions Cup clash.
Saints will name their team for the Pool Four clash at Stade Pierre Antoine on Friday lunchtime, with hooker Hartley in contention to play for the first time since September 11.
Hartley, who captained England to the Grand Slam earlier this year and June's 3-0 series win in Australia, had been suffering from back spasms which prevented him from lifting weights and scrummaging, but is back in full training.
Saints backs coach Alan Dickens said on Wednesday: "Dylan's been injured. He's on the route back.
"He trained fully last week. He's trained fully this week, it's just dependent on how he reacts.
"He's there or thereabouts."
Hartley's imminent return comes as a boost not just for a Saints side seeking to build on their opening 16-14 win over Montpellier, but for England.
England's opening match of the autumn series is against South Africa on November 12.
England second row Courtney Lawes has also trained fully this week and is in contention to return to the starting XV, while Christian Day is also back in training.
Centre Luther Burrell remains out with concussion.
Dickens added: "Luther's going through the return to play protocol. He had a little bit of a setback.
"And we just thought we would start the process again."
As Hartley closes in on a potential return to action, the news is not so bright for another England elite player squad hooker - Exeter's Luke Cowan-Dickie.
The 23-year-old, who was one of four hookers named in England's EPS earlier this season, suffered an ankle injury during Exeter's 35-8 European Champions Cup defeat against Clermont Auvergne three days ago.
And Cowan-Dickie, who has won four England caps, is now set to face a spell on the sidelines.
" It's relatively serious," Exeter head coach Rob Baxter told BBC Sport.
"There is no fracture, but it does look like a badly sprained ankle with some ligament damage, so we're not going to be seeing him in the next few weeks."