England centre Manu Tuilagi could return to action earlier than expected next month, according to head coach Stuart Lancaster.
The 22-year-old has been sidelined with a torn pectoral muscle since he underwent surgery last November.
Tuilagi was expected to miss the entire championship, but Lancaster now believes he could be involved against Wales and Italy.
England's new centre partnership of Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell however has worked well so far against France and Scotland.
"It is very much in Leicester's court and rightly so, they have done a great job in re-habbing him," said Lancaster.
"We are hopeful he will be playing again at the start of March and if that is the case we will see how he goes.
"He has been out a long time and it is going to take him a while to get up to game-speed.
"But equally he is a special player as well. We will see how he goes when he gets back but it is very much in Leicester's hands at the moment and we will wait and see how he goes and make our decisions from there.
"But we are very happy with the way we are developing Billy and Luther at the moment as well."
Lancaster also defended Tuilagi's Leicester team-mate Tom Youngs, who copped much of the blame for England's line-out trouble when he has been on the field over the last fortnight.
"As a forward pack we talked about it yesterday and we felt we let Tom down a bit really," added Lancaster.
"Certainly the first two line-outs [against Scotland] were definitely not Tom's fault and I think all the boys felt for him a bit.
"As hookers do, he got the criticism but actually it was other areas that caused the problem. He is a British Lion, he is a quality player and a quality person and we stick by him, definitely."