England manager Martin Johnson revealed on Wednesday that Courtney Lawes could be back in action before the end of the RBS 6 Nations.
Lawes, 21, suffered a knee ligament injury in Northampton's Aviva Premiership defeat at Leicester last weekend and his club feared he would be sidelined for three months. But Johnson has kept Lawes in his 33-man squad and is hopeful that both he and flanker Tom Croft, who is recovering from a fractured shoulder, could feature in the campaign.
"Tom and Courtney both have a chance of playing rugby by the end of the tournament," Johnson said. "Tom is making good progress with the Leicester medics and our guys and it is the same with Courtney, so they are both week to week and hopefully they will be fitter sooner rather than later and make the end of the tournament."
He added: "Courtney saw the specialist last night (Tuesday) and, like in all these things, straight after the injury they take an image and interpret that.
"I would love him to be out for just six weeks, it may be 10 weeks but it is probably going to be eight or nine weeks. These things can change week by week."
Replacements for Lawes and Croft will be announced after the forthcoming rounds of European action.
Former captain Steve Borthwick and Northampton flanker Tom Wood are the leading candidates.