Northampton lock Lawes (right), player of the series for the autumn internationals, was thought to be facing three months on the sidelines with knee ligament damage. Leicester flanker Croft, meanwhile, is another long-term absentee having fractured his shoulder late last year.
Both are sure to miss the start of the Six Nations at the very least, but Johnson named both in his 33-man elite squad for the tournament yesterday and intends to monitor their progress closely in the hope they may recover quicker than initially expected.
“Tom and Courtney both have a chance of playing rugby by the end of the tournament,” he said. “Tom is making good progress and it’s the same with Courtney, so they’re both week-to-week and hopefully they’ll be fitter sooner rather than later.
“Courtney saw the specialist last night and, like in all these things, straight after the injury they take an image and interpret that. I would love him to be out for just six weeks, it may be 10 weeks but it is probably going to be eight or nine weeks. These things can change week by week.”
Johnson intends to name replacements for Lawes and Croft this month. Northampton flanker Tom Wood is expected to be drafted in as cover for Croft, while Lawes’ absence could mean a recall for former captain Steve Borthwick.