England manager Martin Johnson revealed today 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.
"Courtney saw the specialist last night 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.
Johnson has made two changes and one addition to his squad for the Six Nations.
Leicester lock Louis Deacon has returned to the senior squad in place of Dave Attwood, who is serving a nine-week ban for stamping.
Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson comes in for club-mate Dominic Waldouck, who has been struggling with a back injury since November.
Johnson expanded his squad to 33 players in order to accommodate Charlie Hodgson, who joined the senior squad in the autumn as injury cover for Jonny Wilkinson.
Deacon missed the summer tour of Australia and the autumn internationals with a back injury, which allowed Attwood to make his mark on the England scene.
The Gloucester lock impressed Johnson in the summer and made his Test debut against New Zealand in November.
But he has now been relegated to the Saxons after being suspended for stamping on a La Rochelle player in an Amlin Challenge Cup game.
Deacon is back in form and produced a man-of-the-match performance against Northampton last weekend.
The Saxons squad includes Leicester fly-half Billy Twelvetrees, Northampton centre Jon Clarke, Saints lock Christian Day, Harlequins prop Joe Marler and Sale loose-forward James Gaskell.