LEINSTER leaders Brian O'Driscoll and captain Leo Cullen "could be in contention" for game time against The Ospreys in the PRO12 League at the RDS on Friday night.
Ireland captain O'Driscoll has confounded the medical estimates of his rehabilitation from a serious shoulder/neck injury that at one time threatened his career.
"His reputation precedes him as a fast healer. This is the very earliest we thought we'd have him back. There was a prognosis that we would have him back a month to six weeks later," said Leinster coach Joe Schmidt.
"Things have gone really well for him in his rehabilitation. He got the all clear from the medical staff. We will see how it goes today. It is not guaranteed.
"To be in contention for some of the big games coming very soon, he'd want to get a bit of time under his belt this Friday. He has had a couple of hits on the shoulder, not body and body, and he came through that no problem last Friday.
"There is a bit of pressure on Brian, and he puts a bit of pressure on himself to make sure that he's adding value. Inevitably, he does that with the experience he has and the skill set he's got," Schmidt said.
"I think at the same time he's got a measure of respect for guys like Fergus McFadden and Eoin O'Malley, who have filled in for him - and I have to say more than filled in for him, they grabbed the jersey.
"I think Brian's pretty keen to grab it back. It's a headache, but one of those good headaches to have.
"He's had a couple of hits and he came through them no problem last Friday, so he's had a weekend to recover from that. We'd see it as three massive games that graduate in importance into the Cardiff clash, and then we take the next section of the season beyond that."
Cullen is also doing better than expected from his Achilles tendon operation: "Leo is also making very good progress.
"He is also ahead of where we thought he would be - by two-to-three weeks," added Schmidt.
"We are delighted that he will be out on the pitch today. It is a big test for Leo. There is no guarantee beyond today's training that he will be available for Friday. But, it is good to get him out there and test it."
Suddenly, the second-row crisis is beginning to look like an area of considerable depth with All Black Brad Thorn making an immediate impact at the club, in terms of his professionalism and leadership.
The news on Leinster tight-head Mike Ross was positive. He was forced off at Twickenham with what appears to be a pinched nerve which depowered his arm for scrummaging.
"We have been told it is not something that is serious. It is not something he can't get over in a couple of weeks. He needs rest and rehab."
Schmidt, pictured left, would also like to see prolonged contract discussions between Luke Fitzgerald and the IRFU concluded to Leinster and Ireland's benefit.
"I would certainly love that to happen," he said. "The longer it goes the more difficult it is for Luke to do planning and for us to do planning.
"He is an important part of our future. He is a young player with lots of talent.
"The IRFU have set their stall out fairly well this year. At this stage, I am quietly confident that he will. He is keen to be here, keen for something to happen.
"There's 10 massive weeks coming up, we hope, but we don't control all the variables in that.
"So for us, there's three big ones but then there's three big Tests for Ireland at the end of the year and I know that Luke would love to push his claims over the next 10 weeks to try to be involved in that group."