Leinster hope to have Jack Conan back in time for their Champions Cup quarter-final with Saracens in April – with Dan Leavy close behind.
The province welcome the defending champions to the Aviva Stadium on April 4, and Stuart Lancaster hopes to see Conan on the plane to South Africa for Leinster's two Guinness PRO14 games against Cheetahs (March 21) and Southern Kings (March 27) to prove his fitness.
Conan broke his foot in the run-up to the Ireland v Japan World Cup Pool game last October, and was expected to miss up to six months of action.
“Jack is getting closer and closer to returning, him and Dan Leavy would be huge players,” said the Senior Coach.
“Jack is closer than Dan. We've got a block of three games now and then we've got a break and then we have two games before Saracens, the Kings and Cheetahs away.
“We're hoping Jack will be in or around that sort of time. Dan will probably be a little bit later, not far off as well, which is such an amazing turnaround for Dan in particular.
“To get a player back of Jack's quality and Max [Deegan] and Caelan [Doris] making their international debuts, it is a good place to be.”
Leavy's injury was a far more serious one than Conan's, with the flanker ripping all ligaments in his knee in last season's European quarter-final win over Ulster.
“He is definitely on the right track, definitely,” Lancaster added. “He has had fantastic physio and medical advice and opinion. And he has followed it to the tee.
“My chair looks over into the gym and for, I reckon, nine or ten months now, I've watched him day-in, day-out go from tiny, tiny steps in a brace to beginning to walk and move, getting his strength up. It's phenomenal really to see him getting back to the place he is now.
“I think he did his first run the other day.
“I think the quarter-final would be a stretch by a big mark.
“But, he is getting closer which is great. To turn it around in twelve months, or a little longer, would be amazing really.
“We're in a position whereby if it's not Josh Murphy or Scott Penny or Rhys Ruddock or Josh van der Flier, there's plenty of others back rowers.”