LUKE FITZGERALD is, at most, a fortnight away from making his Leinster comeback.
The Ireland international and 2009 Lion has been out of commission since undergoing neck surgery in May. But Fitzgerald is now nearing a return and will train fully with the squad this week.
This will mark the 23-times capped Fitzgerald's first contact training since the surgery and if, as is expected, he comes through unscathed he may feature in Saturday's Pro12 clash against Connacht in the RDS.
But if it is deemed prudent not to rush him back, he will return against Edinburgh in Murrayfield on January 4.
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt will also be relieved to be able to call on Leo Cullen for the derby match. His captain had to leave the field against Ulster on Friday with a head injury that needed five stitches but will train this week.
Fitzgerald's return will excite Leinster as they could desperately do with injecting his innovative broken-play running into their game in a bid to rescue the season.
Leinster are struggling to stay in the Heineken Cup, and Friday's loss to Ulster prompted Schmidt to concede that the northerners' 16-point lead over them in the Pro12 table was unassailable.
At his best Fitzgerald is a hugely exciting attacking wing who also possesses a great defensive game – something Leinster need to improve.
Only Dragons (31) and Zebre (32) have conceded more tries than Leinster (28) in the Celtic League, and while they have scored 30 tries in the competition, they have only crossed the line three times in the Heineken Cup.
It is perhaps beneficial that it is Connacht who are visiting the RDS this weekend as local derby matches invariably bring out the best in those involved.
"Saturday night presents the squad with an opportunity to put the Ulster performance behind us, but the improving Connacht side have proved very difficult to beat this year" said Schmidt.
It is also likely that Schmidt will be able to call on Shane Jennings, Eoin O'Malley and Dave Kearney for the game, although they will again be without some of their Ireland internationals as they are being 'rested' under the IRFU'S Player Welfare scheme.