Jonny Wilkinson could be given an international warm-up ahead of this summer’s British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand in England’s final game of the Six Nations.
Fly-half superstar Wilkinson is on course to make a Zurich Premiership comeback with Newcastle this Sunday and could be given a run out in England’s game against Scotland next weekend.
The Lions number 10 is not in the Falcons starting line-up to face relegation candidates Harlequins at The Stoop.
But Wilkinson features among 11 possible replacements named by Newcastle rugby director Rob Andrew, suggesting he might be on the bench after two months out recovering from a knee injury.
Andrew will finalise his seven-strong list of substitutes on Sunday morning after conducting various late fitness checks.
And any return for Wilkinson, who has been sidelined since early January, would raise the stakes for an eagerly-awaited England reappearance.
He has not played at any level since suffering a knee ligament problem during Newcastle’s European Cup pool defeat against Perpignan and has not played international rugby since the World Cup final win against Australia in November 2003, when he drop-kicked England to an extra-time victory.
"We still have to train tomorrow, but he has done everything with us this week, including live contact and kicking, so there is every chance he will take some part (on Sunday)," said Andrew.
"If Jonny plays on Sunday, is fully fit on Monday, then it becomes a selection call for England, which is nothing to do with us as a club.
"Andy Robinson is the one who has to decide whether to reintroduce him to the (England) set-up, be it as a bench player or whatever. That is somebody else’s call, so all I can deal with is our game at Harlequins on Sunday."
‘If Jonny is fully fit, all he needs now is game time,’ added Andrew.
‘We can’t give him that next week as we don’t have a match, whereas England do have one.
‘They have three decisions to make – whether they want him, full stop, whether they start him or whether they bench him. That will be determined by his match fitness, and we will see what that is like on Sunday.’