Stephen Ferris is set to return to action next month - and with Ulster Rugby guaranteed to be involved in April's quarter-finals he could still have a major say in this season's tournament.
Ferris played in all nine of Ulster's Heineken Cup matches last season, the final against Leinster at Twickenham last May his 30th tournament appearance.
But since injuring his knee on the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, the 27-year-old Ulster and Ireland flanker has played less than half of his club and country's matches and last month he needed surgery on an ankle tendon injury.
"I'm the strongest I've ever been in the gym and personally I feel absolutely fantastic, so I just can't wait to get back out there and when I do get back out there, I think I'll be better than I was when I left off," he said.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney kept him in his plans by involving the 35-times capped player in his December camp, and Ferris believes that the international team is in a good place ahead of the championship thanks to the Ulster-flavoured infusion of youth into the squad.
"It is great that Declan wants me there, I'm part of the squad and it is good to know," he said. "The amount of young guys that have come in, it is unbelievable.
"You look at the difference between the team at the 2011 World Cup and the one from last November and there is a freshness about the place and a sense of opportunity.
"Everybody thinks they have a chance - that breeds confidence and it is a good thing to have. The boys that have come in are so laid-back and confident.
"I remember coming into the Ulster team and we were mid-table. Now we're winning games, young lads are slotting into a team with 13 internationals and we're winning by 20, 30 points and that breeds confidence."
As part of the build-up to next month's Cardiff 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals weekend, ERC has joined forces with the WRU, Cardiff Blues and adidas to develop an annual grassroots community rugby programme targeting young players.
The Ulster Rugby full back, Jared Payne (No 15), has been suspended for two (2) weeks following an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Dublin arising from the Heineken Cup quarter-final match against Saracens at Ravenhill Stadium on Saturday, 5 April.