British & Irish Lions boss Sir Clive Woodward has received a major boost with the return to action of England back-row star Richard Hill.
The World Cup winner, sidelined since suffering a serious knee injury almost six months ago, began his comeback for Saracens in a reserve clash against Gloucester at Kingsholm on Monday night.
Hill started the game and played for 40 minutes - his first competitive outing since being carried off in Premiership action at London Irish last October.
Woodward is due to announce the Lions squad for this summer's three-Test New Zealand tour next Monday.
And Hill, who has not played international rugby this term after missing England's entire autumn Test series and the RBS 6 Nations campaign, would be a selection certainty - if fully fit.
Capped 71 times, his departure through injury during the Lions' second Test defeat against Australia in 2001 proved a major factor behind the 2-1 series reversal.
''Six weeks ago, this game was a real long shot,'' said Hill, reflecting on his comeback appearance.
''But as things have progressed, we started thinking about possibly playing 10 minutes of game time, and then 20, and by the time the game kicked off, it had extended to a half.
''To be honest, the fitness was there and I could have gone on for longer if needed, but it was very much a case of being cautious and just about me getting back playing again.
''The next step for me is waiting to see is there is any reaction after the game, and that is not just a case of in the knee, but my body in general,'' he added.
Hill underwent surgery as a result of the injury, and his rehabilitation process included spending time in America with renowned knee specialist Bill Knowles.
Saracens have three Premiership games left this season, starting against Wasps next Sunday, when Hill could conceivably make an appearance opposite his former England back-row colleague Lawrence Dallaglio.