Paul O'Connell is targeting a return to action in April - and a place in the Lions tour - after undergoing successful surgery on his back on New Year's Eve.
If the Ireland lock proves his fitness, he could come into the selection picture for the summer's Lions tour of Australia.
It had been feared that the Munster star would miss the tour because of a bulging disc in his back.
"I am delighted with the way the operation went," he said. "More importantly, so too are the medical team who carried out the operation and I am very grateful to all concerned.
"My aim now is to start rehab as soon as is practicable.
"In terms of a return, I'd be looking at early April when hopefully Munster will be in contention for trophies on two fronts."
O'Connell missed seven months of action because of a knee injury and made a surprise return in the Heineken Cup in October.
His chronic back problem then flared up again, ruling him out of the autumn internationals and the Six Nations.