Ireland wing Tommy Bowe has given his country a major boost ahead of the Six Nations by saying he could return to action in early 2016.
The experienced 31-year-old back sustained a cruciate knee ligament injury during the Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina.
It was expected to rule the international out of not just the 2016 Six Nations Championship but possibly the whole 2015/16 campaign for Ulster. But news emerging from Irish broadcaster RTE suggests an early return is on as Bowe's return date is set to be brought forward.
"I'll hopefully get myself back onto the pitch sometime soon in the new year," he said.
"Thankfully it wasn't as bad as it could've been."
Bowe underwent surgery soon after suffering the injury and is now very much in a positive mindset as he sets his sights on a return to PRO12 rugby.
"I'm on the road to recovery at the minute. The operation was done over four weeks ago and I just have to recuperate for a couple of months," he continued.
"I had a chat with Joe (Schmidt). He's aware of my situation and he's aware that I'm going to do my best to get myself back into reasonable shape for whatever competitions are available – whether that's the Six Nations or the summer tour, who knows?
"At the time I thought it (the injury) was quite serious. It could have been a lot worse. I'm very positive, it's feeling good and strong.
"I'll have a brace on it until January. It's a pain in the neck. But if things are looking good then there might be a chance to come out of it then."
He added: "It drives me mad, I hate it. You want to be out there, you want to be a part of it. Through the good wins you want to be in the changing room to celebrate and with the bad losses you think you could have made a difference. That's always difficult."