Legendary Lion Brian O’Driscoll could be back in action later this month.
The triple Lions tourist has been sidelined since October due to a neck and shoulder complaint.
O’Driscoll underwent surgery to fix the problem after Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final defeat to Wales, with critics questioning whether he would return to action before the end of the season.
The 2005 Lions skipper had targeted a comeback date sometime in April but he now appears on course to return even earlier than he had first hoped.
Leinster boss Joe Schmidt has suggested that his star centre could feature for the reigning European Champions in their PRO12 clash with the Ospreys on March 23 or, failing that, the domestic derby with Munster a week later.
“It's going really well,” was Schmidt’s latest assessment of O’Driscoll’s progress.
“The difficulty for us is to ascertain what Brian’s level of fitness is.
“He’s been back on the training pitch but not fully involved so when we get back to training next week there will probably be another week where he would get to do everything but the contact.
“If that works out, he might go into contact in preparation for the Ospreys or we might wait one more week and let him go into the Munster game after some contact.”
The news is a major boost for O’Driscoll who, along with Ronan O’Gara, is aiming to become the first player to feature in four Lions tours in the professional era.
The 33-year-old won Test honours with Britain and Ireland’s elite in Australia in 2001, New Zealand in 2005 and South Africa in 2009.
A call up for next year’s adventure Down Under would see O’Driscoll jump to third in the list of players to have taken part in the most tours, with only fellow Irishmen Willie John McBride and Mike Gibson having being part of five squads.