Tommy Bowe may be ready to face England
Ulster's Tommy Bowe is confident he will play a part in Ireland's 2014 RBS Six Nations schedule.
"I hope to be back for a couple of matches," the 59 times-capped Ireland wing told delighted guests at the Belfast Telegraph's sports awards on Monday night.
If that is to happen, almost certainly he will be required to turn out for Ulster in order to get some much-needed game time before returning to the international stage.
Ireland's Six Nations fixtures are against Scotland, (home, February 2), Wales (home, February 8), England (away, February 22), Italy (home, March 8) and France (away, March 15).
Ulster's RaboDirect PRO 12 rogramme in the same period is Ospreys (home, February 7), Scarlets (home, February 14), Benetton Treviso (away, February 23) and Newport Gwent Dragons (home, February 28).
Ulster's Belfast meeting with Ospreys – Bowe's former employers – may be just too early.
But if that is the case, he would almost certainly expect to face Scarlets a week later at Ravenhill.
Thereafter, Ireland versus England at Twickenham on February 22 would be an opportune occasion for Bowe to return to Ireland colours on his 30th birthday.
Of course – much to Ulster supporters' delight – Bowe's optimism that he will play some part in the Six Nations means, barring further injury he would be available for the Heineken Cup quarter-final with Saracens in April.
A Test-starting wing for the British and Irish Lions on each of their past two tours – South Africa in 2009 and Australia in 2013 – he has been sidelined since suffering a groin injury in November's epic battle against the All Blacks.
At the time it was believed he would be in dry dock for a maximum of six weeks, but that has since proved to be somewhat optimistic.
And in the interim he has missed Ulster's Heineken Cup triumphs over Montpellier at Ravenhill and Leicester Tigers at Welford Road. But now Bowe is back on track.