Dublin - Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll is on course to feature in the Six Nations tournament after returning to training with Leinster following ankle surgery.
O'Driscoll was sidelined for Ireland's entire programme of internationals in November, raising fears he would not be available for the Six Nations.
But the 33-year-old trained on Tuesday for the first time since his operation and hopes to be back in the Ireland line-up when his country begins its Six Nations title bid against Wales on February 2.
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt confirmed O'Driscoll's return and also delivered positive reports on O'Driscoll's Ireland team-mates Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald.
The Leinster pair missed the November internationals, Kearney with a back injury and Fitzgerald due to a neck problem, but Schmidt believes they will be fit to link up with Ireland coach Declan Kidney's squad in the new year.
"Brian is out there for his first onfield session and Rob Kearney is due out on the pitch next week," Schmidt told the Irish Independent.
"Luke is back on the pitch a while and we're looking at either the home game against Connacht at the RDS (Royal Dublin Showgrounds) on December 29 or for the Edinburgh match away at Murrayfield the following week."