Dan Ward-Smith’s relentless pursuit of an odds-defying England World Cup squad place will move up another gear next week.
The uncapped Bristol number eight has refused to concede defeat on a gruelling comeback trail from serious injury.
Ward-Smith was cruelly denied a probable England debut during last season’s Six Nations Championship when he dislocated his right kneecap and suffered a ruptured patella in the 14th minute of a Guinness Premiership game at Northampton.
The 29-year-old, whose blistering form helped propel Bristol towards the dizzy heights of European Cup qualification, underwent surgery and faced a grim prospect that his World Cup dream might never be realised.
Six months on, the World Cup countdown has gathered momentum, but Ward-Smith retains an admirable sense of optimism that he will be fit and available prior to England head coach Brian Ashton’s August 14 squad announcement during a month when three warm-up Tests are also scheduled.
The New Zealand-born prospect – arguably English rugby’s most destructive ball-carrying forward last term – took a limited part in this week’s training camp on the Algarve.
But he intends stepping things up when England’s World Cup hopefuls reassemble at their Bath University training base for further important sessions during the next fortnight.
Ward-Smith said: "I am making really good progress, and I am doing everything in my power to get fit as soon as possible.
"There wasn’t really a plan from day one.
"It is one of those injuries where there isn’t a mapped-out recovery protocol when you move from A to B to C.
"It is hard to say whether I am ahead of schedule or behind schedule because it is quite a rare injury and not many people have had experience of rehabilitating it.
"There is not a lot of time before the World Cup, but I can sprint and I can jump and I am doing a lot of training such as weightlifting to try to get the strength back into my leg.
"There is still a lot of work to do, but I am in the best possible hands and if it is an achievable goal, I am sure I will achieve it."