SIMON ZEBO looks set to give Munster a major boost after declaring that he is on track to come back in time for the province's crunch Heineken Cup quarter-final against Harlequins.
Days after Paul O'Connell returned to action for the first time in months, coach Rob Penney received further good news as the Corkman revealed he is ahead of schedule after breaking a bone in his foot last month.
The lightening-quick winger suffered the injury during Ireland's Six Nations defeat to England last month and was expected to miss 10 weeks. While he is not guaranteeing his availability to under-pressure coach Penney yet, he reckons he has a chance of making the team.
And he said that O'Connell's return in a Munster 'A' game earlier this week had given the whole squad a boost.
"The Quins game is my target," Zebo told the Irish Independent. "That's my immediate goal to get back. I'm probably no more than 50-50, but there is a chance and we all saw what Paulie achieved. He is an inspiration to all injured players.
"It's great he's back and I hope I too can put myself in a position where I am in the reckoning for the Quins match. That's the target, that's the goal and so far it is on schedule.
"We will just have to wait and see and hopefully it will work out. It's what I have been working towards and it is working out well. I have been training in the gym and want to move to the next level."
Zebo's injury couldn't have come at a worse time for the player or Ireland coach Declan Kidney.
He burst on to the Six Nations scene with a superb try-scoring display against Wales that included an audacious piece of skill that lit up the tournament's opening weekend.
Ireland's form has plummeted since, but Zebo is focusing on regaining fitness as he deals with his first major injury setback.
"It has been a whirlwind few months. It's been frustrating not to be involved in all of the Six Nations campaign. I was really excited and looking forward to showing what I can do but, hopefully, there will be plenty of more exciting times ahead," Zebo said.
"I haven't gotten too down about it and I'm just looking to getting back into it all again. I have been really enjoying my rugby since grabbing a starting place.
"This has been my first proper injury since I have been playing in the professional game. I have been very lucky and hopefully after this setback that will be it."
Zebo, who turns 23 tomorrow, admits that he found dealing with the injury difficult at first, but the prospect of an early return has focused his mind on rehabilitation.
"I found it very difficult initially but then got into the routine of it," he said. "Things are coming on very well now. I have had great progress in the past few weeks. The injury is coming on really well and hopefully that will continue.
"I think I could be running on grass next week, all things going well. It brings the Harlequins match into the reckoning and, yes, it is a possibility, but it will be touch and go.
"If I keep progressing the way I'm going then I could be in contention for Quins, but I will take it day by day."