LEINSTER'S Heineken Cup hopes - and Ireland's Six Nations chances - have been given a massive boost after the revelation that talismanic centre Brian O'Driscoll is in line for an earlier than expected comeback from injury.
The midfield maestro may now be ready for Ireland's tricky Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff on February 2.
Having only returned to training 10 days ago, he has yet again demonstrated his renowned ability for speedy rehabilitation, this time from ankle ligament surgery, which he underwent two months ago.
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt yesterday revealed that the 33-year-old is on course to return for the Pro12 trip to Edinburgh on January 4.
This will be a huge boost for coach Declan Kidney in his bid to avert a fourth successive defeat against the Welsh as he is already resigned to being without Tommy Bowe, Stephen Ferris and Paul O'Connell.
Schmidt offered further encouragement on injured duo Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald as well, stating that they are also due to return next week.
"We'd be confident of Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald getting back for Edinburgh," he said.
Should this trio emerge unscathed from their comeback outings against the Scottish side, then they should also be on hand for Leinster's ambitious bid to keep alive their Heineken Cup hat-trick hopes.
After losing back-to-back games against Clermont, Leinster are struggling to reach the quarter-finals as they await their final two group games next month.
Ireland were forced to endure the November series without six of their leading internationals -- including O'Driscoll, Kearney, O'Connell and Ferris -- but they managed to cling on to their top-eight world ranking ahead of the World Cup draw earlier this month.
Although Leinster are hoping to welcome back their latest clutch of injured players next week, they are likely to be bereft of a host of players ahead of tomorrow's Pro12 clash against Connacht in the RDS due to IRFU player management issues.
New Leinster signing Mike McCarthy will not play for Connacht against the Blues. The 31-year old is being rested as part of the international player welfare programme.