Ireland back-row Sean O'Brien has said his recovery from a dislocated shoulder is "ahead of schedule" as the season concludes.
O'Brien sustained the injury late in December as his Leinster side took on Ulster, ruling him out for the rest of the season.
The flanker missed Ireland's triumphant Six Nations campaign, and while he is not expected to be fit for the climax of the PRO12 and Heineken Cup, he has returned to training earlier than expected.
"I'm back ahead of schedule and I'm just looking forward to starting my pre-season in two weeks' time," O'Brien told KCLR FM.
"That'll be tough work for six or eight weeks, but it's something I'm looking forward to. I'm just looking forward to getting fit again and getting cracking into the year when I do get going."
Powerhouse O'Brien, regarded as one of Europe's top ball-carrying flankers, admitted watching Ireland lift the Six Nations trophy in Paris over a week ago was bittersweet. Ulster rival Chris Henry filled his vacant berth on the openside flank and enjoyed a fine tournament.
"It was tough at the start to get my head around things and I suppose, looking at last weekend it was tough," added O'Brien.
"Seeing the lads winning the championship and not being a part of that; but on the other hand I'm absolutely thrilled for the whole squad.
"We are after taking a step forward and we're playing a good brand of rugby. There's exciting times ahead I think. There is massive competition there in the back-row now and Chris had a great tournament, so fair play to him. I'll have to fight for my place when I get back and I look forward to that."