England will be without Manu Tuilagi for the start of the Six Nations after he suffered a groin injury in Sale’s Gallagher Premiership victory over Saracens last Friday.
Tuilagi limped off early in the second half with a grade three tear and has been told he faces six weeks of rehabilitation, although he does not require surgery.
The powerful 32-year-old centre, who was a regular in England’s midfield during the recent World Cup, will miss at least the Championship opener against Italy on February 3.
“Manu has pulled his groin and we think he’s going to be back during the Six Nations, but not for the first week,” Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson said.
“I spoke to him and he’s like ‘I need to play and if I’m good to play it’s up to England regarding selection’.
“He was in the frame before and I’ve stated before his intent to keep playing international rugby.
“Six weeks is the recommended time for the injury and Manu is saying four.”
Tuilagi, who returned from the World Cup with a broken hand, was plagued by a long-term groin problem earlier in his career and more recently has been troubled by damage to both hamstrings.
Sale prop Bevan Rodd will miss the entire Six Nations after undergoing toe surgery.