Iain Henderson set for fast-track return to action after Six Nations call-up
Euro boost for Ulster as Cooney also drafted in
Iain Henderson's much anticipated comeback from injury looks to be well ahead of schedule after he was named in Ireland's Six Nations squad.
The 26-year-old had been expected to miss most of the championship as it was believed that he would not be ready to play until mid-March after undergoing surgery on his thumb last month.
But Joe Schmidt fuelled speculation that Henderson is close to being fit again after yesterday including him in his 38-player squad for the opening two rounds of the championship, at home to England on February 2 and then away to Scotland seven days later.
Henderson is one of six Ulster players in the expanded squad as Ireland, ranked second in the world, bid to continue their clean sweep of the November internationals by winning back-to-back Six Nations titles ahead of this autumn's World Cup.
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The other Ulster representatives are Ireland skipper Rory Best and star player Jacob Stockdale as well as John Cooney, Will Addison and Jordi Murphy.
Ireland fly out to a four-day warm weather training camp in Portugal on Monday.
Cooney being named in the squad strongly suggests that he will be fit to play for Ulster in Saturday's crunch European Champions Cup tie at Leicester Tigers.
The scrum-half missed out on last week's win over Racing 92 due to a back issue.
Ulster must win at Welford Road to guarantee making the last eight for the first time since 2014.