Ulster's Iain Henderson making strides in fitness bid
Ulster's long-term casualties are all progressing on schedule with Director of Rugby Les Kiss hoping that both Iain Henderson and Tommy Bowe will play again before the end of the season.
Henderson, the 23-year-old who made such an impact with Ireland at the World Cup, has been out of action since the start of December with a hamstring tear and it was initially feared that he would miss the entire campaign.
As first revealed by the Belfast Telegraph earlier this month, however, the dynamic lock still hopes to be back in action for the season's conclusion and Ireland's summer tour to South Africa.
Speaking at Monday night's Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, where he was the recipient of the George Best Breakthrough prize, Henderson said: "I'm just back from the consultant in London and was asking all the same questions that you're probably going to ask me.
"It was positive news but we still have to take this week by week. Fingers crossed I'll get some games in before the end of the season."
Bowe, who is rehabilitating a knee injury sustained at the World Cup, is also progressing well while Dan Tuohy will see a consultant today regarding his broken foot.
More will be known after that visit but Ulster still hope to see the lock back in action during the upcoming block of six fixtures that begins with a trip to Treviso on Saturday.
There was bad news for Wiehahn Herbst, however, as his foot injury does not require surgery but will see him out of action for a number of months.
In the short term, Ruan Pienaar is still struggling with a virus and is expected to miss Saturday's game, as will Chris Henry with an ailing shoulder, although the flanker could be available for next week's visit from the Dragons.
Kyle McCall is being monitored after the head injury he suffered against Oyonnax.
While Henderson's return before the end of this campaign would provide a considerable boost, his former Belfast Royal Academy classmate Stuart Olding is already back on the paddock to aid Ulster's PRO12 bid.
The versatile back has been out since last March with a knee injury but, having come through an Ulster A game last week, is in contention for a senior return against Treviso.
For anyone who remembers the beaming grin on Olding's face as he crossed for his first ever Ireland try against Georgia 15 months ago, it'll be no surprise that the 22-year-old's approach to his injury nightmare was to keep smiling.
A second ACL tear would be enough to sully the mood of most but Olding says maintaining a positive attitude is the key to surviving lengthy spells on the sidelines.
"Always smile," he replied when asked how he got through the last nine months.
"That's a massive thing for me, just keeping a huge smile.
"The other players all have their own problems going on so, coming into training, they don't need you dragging them down. Keep a smile on your face and go into every session with 100 per cent intent because who knows when it'll be over. Take advantage of it.
"I've missed a lot of rugby in the four or five years that I've been involved here but hopefully that's it behind me. I'm just looking forward now."
The twice-capped international admitted to some nerves last week but ultimately was thrilled with his try-scoring return.
"I was absolutely grand," he said of the British and Irish Cup game against Bristol.
"I was a bit nervous during the week, but once I got on to the game it was like I hadn't been away. I was just trying to get my hands on the ball as much as I could and really get a feel for playing again.
"With the Six Nations squad picked, a load of the backs are away and hopefully that's a chance for me.
"It's a pretty important six weeks for us. They're almost must-win games so I want to contribute as much as I can."
England wing Chris Ashton is hoping to rescue his RBS Six Nations by appealing against the length of the 10-week suspension that has ruled him out of the Championship.
Having examined the written judgment, Saracens are to contest the ban issued for making contact with the eye area of Ulster centre Luke Marshall in Sarries' Champions Cup victory at Allianz Park on January 16.