New Zealand World Cup winning prop, John Afoa, could make his first appearance of the season for Ulster when they go to France to take on Montpellier in the second round Heineken Cup Pool Five match.
Afoa has been struggling with a calf problem for some time and Ulster have been managing the injury carefully.
But the Kiwi was back at training on Monday and yesterday and provided there is no niggles between now and Friday, the tighthead prop was expected to be named on the bench for Saturday’s tie between the sides currently top of Pool Five after Round One.
While there was good news for Afoa, Irish winger Craig Gilroy looks likely to sit another Heineken Cup game out with a troublesome ankle injury.
But Afoa’s expected return is a boost for Ulster as they get ready to come up against one of the biggest physical challenges of the season in France.
Ulster head coach, Mark Anscombe was guarded yesterday on Afoa’s situation, but was hopeful on his recovery.
“He (John) is close,” said Anscombe.
“He has trained yesterday and again today with us.
“We just have to be careful and manage it.
“But it is certainly a lot more positive at this stage than we were e at this time last week.”
There was also better news on skipper Johann Muller. He was the main injury concern following last week’s 22-16 win over Leicester at Ravenhill.
The Springbok lock looked in clear pain with a neck issue at the post match press conference, but at yesterday’s media session he was moving freely again.
Anscombe said: “Johann is a pro and knows how to look after himself.
“He knows his body pretty well, after 15-16 years of pro rugby.
“The fact is he will be sore for a day or two afterwards, but he knows what he has to do to get himself right for the next game.
“He is a competitor and he wants to play rugby.”
It was expected Ulster would make one change to their starting line-up for the trip to Stade Yves-du-Manoir.
South African scrumhalf, Ruan Pienaar is set to start having come off the bench last Friday night.
It means Paul Marshall will drop to the bench, but that is something which was always expected on the Springbok’s return.
Both scrumhalves agreed new three-year deals within a week of each other, keeping them with the Province until 2013.
Saturday will mark the first meeting of Ulster and Montpellier in a competitive fixture and there is a lot at stake even at this early stage.
With both clubs having won their opening Pool Five games - Montpellier were comfortable victors in Italy (27-10) against Benetton Treviso - the winner of this week’s clash will finish the first mini block of fixtures leading the pool going into the double headers in December.
Montpellier have never lost a Heineken Cup match at home, while Ulster have only ever won in France once - last season against Castres.
However, Ulster’s away form in the competition has improved dramatically in recent years, winning seven of their last 10 games on the road.
Anscombe said: “We have no fears about going anywhere to play anyone. But we do respect who we are going to play.
“When you go to play French teams on their own turf, they grow an extra arm and a leg.
“We know it is going to be difficult, but these are the challenges we want.”