Lions hopeful Ben Foden is ready to return to action a month ahead of schedule.
The England full back cum wing could feature for his club side Northampton against London Welsh on Saturday after recovering from an ankle injury.
Foden had surgery to repair ligament damage and was initially expected to be sidelined for 12 weeks following the incident in the Aviva Premiership win over Bath on September 14.
The 27-year-old turned awkwardly as he was hit hard by Bath wing Tom Biggs in the 45th minute of Northampton’s 18-14 win at The Rec and was forced to leave the ground in a moon boot covering a bump the size of a cricket ball on his right ankle.
“I started running again at the end of last week and did some change of direction running this morning (Monday), which went pretty well so I am hoping to start the rugby sessions on Tuesday or Wednesday,” said Foden.
“Then it is up to the coaches to decide if I am ready. If it is not this weekend it should be definitely the game against Sale on November 30.”
Foden has already sat out England’s two opening autumn internationals with Fiji and Australia, as well as Northampton’s league games against Worcester, London Wasps, London Irish and Saracens and the Heineken Cup clashes with Glasgow and Castres.
And while he admits he would ‘love’ to feature for England against the All Blacks on December 1, he has ruled out a return to the international fold so soon unless Stuart Lancaster requires a last-minute SOS.
The former Sale star has been one of his country’s most consistent performers over recent seasons but Alex Goode’s superb performance against the Fijians and Mike Brown’s continued fine form means he is no longer a shoe in for the No15 shirt.
And it’s not just with England where competition for the full back slot is so fierce.
Rob Kearney, Leigh Halfpenny and Stuart Hogg are all realistic contenders for a place in the Lions party that will travel to Hong Kong and Australia next summer, meaning it’s even more important than ever that Foden returns to action sooner rather than later.