Manu Tuilagi is using a state-of-the-art anti-gravity treadmill to accelerate his return from Achilles surgery and is now expected to starting playing again for Sale Sharks at the start of May, increasing his chances of making the British and Irish Lions squad to take on South Africa.

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Tuilagi has been exploring various ways of helping his recovery, including hiking and learning to salsa, but he is now concentrating on running for the first time since injuring his leg in September last year.

The severity of the Achilles injury raised serious doubts about his ability to make it back in Sale colours before the end of this season but he is now on course to play a key role in their bid for a Premiership playoff place and that would also surely put the England centre back in the Lions selection mix.

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Eddie Jones’ thoughts after England defeated France in last weekend’s Six Nations game at Twickenham

To help Tuilagi get back on the pitch, Sale have given the midfielder a programme to follow based around the anti-gravity treadmill that allows the centre to run by reducing the pressure on his legs.

Alex Sanderson, the Sale director of rugby, said: “The specialist always gives you a minimum time and that is now about five weeks for Manu and it is looking good for him. It will be five weeks to contact and then maybe a week more to play. He is a quick healer and looks like he will be on the minimum recovery period.

“It is hi-tech what Manu is doing. You put on a pair of special pants that are really tight like shorts and then step into a bubble on the running machine that is the zipped up around you. Then it blows up and lifts you up.

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“Depending on the pressure, it takes the weight off you while you are running and so there is less strain on joints. He has now done two sessions and the strength and conditioning and medical guys dovetail to help his recovery. There are a lot of markers that will have to be hit when he comes back to play and we won’t be rushing things.”

Sale, who have had Tuilagi linked with a summer move away from the club, are also expecting to add flanker Ben Curry and strong running centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg to their squad “in the next couple of weeks”. Sanderson, though, will have to continue without their physicality when his team attempts to bounce back from defeat at Northampton when they face London Irish at the AJ Bell Stadium next Sunday.

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