Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris could yet play a part in this season's RBS Six Nations Championship after making good progress following ankle surgery.
The 27-year-old went under the knife in early December to repair tendon damage picked up in a RaboDirect Pro12 league clash with Edinburgh in November and missed all of Ireland's autumn internationals.
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe has now given a positive bulletin on Ferris' rehabilitation and is hopeful the back-rower could be back playing within a month.
"Stephen Ferris, mid-February, fingers crossed, all going well," Anscombe told BBC Sport.
If Ferris does return on schedule then he would still have a chance of featuring for Ireland in the Six Nations.
Their campaign kicks off with an away game in Wales on February 2 before the home match with England the following weekend.
A two-week break follows before Ireland make the trip to Scotland on February 24 and they conclude their fixture-list with contests against France on March 9 and then Italy seven days later.
However, Ferris is unlikely to be rushed back into the national set-up until he has proved his fitness for Ulster, with their next match not coming until they face the Ospreys in league action on February 9.
Anscombe also sounded a note of caution when quizzed about the fitness of Ferris' Ireland and Ulster team-mate Tommy Bowe who recently underwent knee surgery.
The Ulster supremo played down suggestions that the winger could be back in time to face Saracens in the Heineken Cup quarter-final in early April.
"That would be pushing it," said the Ulster coach. "We've got to be very careful with such a serious injury that he had. We don't want to be rushing it. We've got to look at the longer-term effects of where it's at."
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