Buckley gives Schmidt prop options with early return
Joe Schmidt's options at loosehead for the defence of the Six Nations look set for a timely boost with Connacht's impressive prop Denis Buckley returning from injury sooner than expected.
The Roscommon native was one of the key figures in Connacht's superb start to the season until he got injured in the win over Munster in Thomond Park at the end of November.
The 25-year-old underwent surgery on an ankle injury which was to keep him sidelined for about two months, but he has made great progress and could be back in action in a couple of weeks.
"Denis is tracking quite nicely, he is out of the moon boot, he has done a bit of work and we are hopeful that he will be ready for the Scarlets game at the end of the month, possibly Enisei the week before. That's the target date for him," said Connacht coach Pat Lam.
The return of Buckley, a former Irish U-20 who featured for Emerging Ireland during the summer, could be timely for Schmidt with Munster's James Cronin out for a month.
And Lam also expects Robbie Henshaw to be back for the trip to France the weekend after next to play Brive in the Challenge Cup.
The Irish centre, who will miss the trip to play Pro12 leaders Scarlets on Sunday, is to undergo a scan on a fractured bone in his left hand next week.
Lam expects that scan to confirm that the 22-year-old, who picked up the injury in the final play of the win over Munster in late November, is fit to return and will be ready for the Six Nations.
"Robbie has that X-ray on the 12th and on the back of that he's hopefully all good to go which would be around the Brive week."
More immediately, Lam has received a triple injury boost as he prepares to head to Wales at the weekend to take on Scarlets.
Scarlets displaced Connacht at the top of the table pre-Christmas and Lam is looking for a response after losing their last three league games.
Versatile back Danie Poolman, academy centre Peter Robb and promising flanker James Connolly have all been cleared to play as the injury crisis which hampered their great start to the season starts to abate.
Robb, who this week signed his first senior contract, has returned from a head injury suffered in the Challenge Cup loss away to Newcastle Falcons.
South African Poolman has recovered from a rib injury picked up in that match, while Connolly is back from a hamstring injury.
Lam said that promoting Robb and another promising academy product Sean O'Brien to full senior contracts this week is indicative of the good work being done to produce quality players at the Sportsground.