Tom Croft is poised to give Leicester Tigers a massive boost ahead of their key Round 2 Sunday showdowns at the Ospreys on 13 January and home to Toulouse seven days later.
The England flanker could make his first appearance for eight months before the end of the year and be available for the group matches that will settle prestigious quarter-final qualification.
It is a three-horse race with former double champions Leicester topping the group on 14 points with four-times champions Toulouse just a point behind and the Ospreys on nine points
Croft, 27, has not played since undergoing surgery after damaging his neck during the Premiership clash with Harlequins in April but is back in training and Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill says he could return later this month.
"Tom is probably a week away and that is good news for us," said Cockerill.
"It will be a slow integration and we will have to look after him. He hasn't played for eight months and we are conscious of that. His injury was a serious one and it's about him being confident when he comes back.
"Tom has seen the specialist and he was pretty happy with what he saw. We will get him back playing but we will just have to see because he hasn't played for so long. I don't normally get good news like that from physios!
"Tom has put weight on and is looking in good shape. We feel that extra bulk will make him more robust. He actually looks like a rugby player now and it's just the healing of the bones that has to be right."
Finals Edition: Listen to the best guide to the European Rugby Cup Finals weekend in Dublin, which sees Leinster Rugby take on Stade Francais Paris at the RDS on Friday night in the Amlin Challenge Cup Final and then ASM Clermont Auvergne tackle Toulon in an all-French affair at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
With the build-up to the Dublin 2013 European club rugby finals intensifying by the day, the four elite clubs of ASM Clermont Auvergne, Toulon, Leinster Rugby and Stade Francais Paris, who are focused on their quest for Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup silverware respectively, won't be the only clubs with Europe on their mind over the weekend of 17 and 18 May.
With eight leading clubs still in the race for coveted Dublin 2013 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup final berths, this weekend's European semi-finals will be watched keenly by Bath Rugby, Connacht Rugby and London Wasps among others as their hopes of qualification for the 2013/14 Heineken Cup hang in the balance.
Stade Français Paris scrum half, Jérôme Fillol (No 9), has been suspended for fourteen (14) weeks following an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Dublin arising from the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final match against Bath Rugby.
Read all three hearing decisions here..
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