Injured England duo Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes will have to rely on reputation alone if they are to be picked for the Lions this week with both still a way off returning.
Tuilagi, 29, has not played since tearing his achilles in September and Lawes, 32, had to withdraw from England’s Six Nations squad in February after suffering a chest injury.
Sportsmail understands that neither are ready to play for Sale and Northampton respectively this weekend so Lions head coach Warren Gatland will have to gamble on their fitness if he is to select either in his touring party this Thursday.
Injured England duo Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes will have to rely on reputation for Lions
Tuilagi’s Sale return was set for this month but it is understood he will not feature against Leicester in the Premiership on Friday night – rated as a week away from his comeback ‘at the very least’ by an insider.
And Lawes is expected to make just the final three or four league matches for Saints, meaning he will be hard pressed to make Gatland’s slim 36-man squad with such an array of options at second and back row.
With George North unavailable due to injury the Lions may lack a big ball-carrying threat in the backs, so Tuilagi could well be drafted in as such a potent midfield force.
Lions head coach Warren Gatland will have to gamble on their fitness if he is to select either
But the centre is only likely to have played around six full-blooded games in the space of nine months before the South Africa tour, if picked by the Lions.
An added complication for both England men would be if their clubs make the Premiership playoffs or the end-of-season final.
If so both would hardly be able to meet and bond with the rest of the squad, who will travel to Jersey from June 13 until they play Japan in Scotland a fortnight later, before the flight to South Africa.
Gatland and his coaches will have to decide this week if they can afford to take either in the Lions’ thinnest squad of the professional era, knowing they have precious little time to get up to speed.
But there is hope for some Englishmen not recently selected by Eddie Jones with it understood Danny Care, Marcus Smith, Sam Simmonds and Ben Spencer are all on Gatland’s long-list for selection.