Ireland prop Tadhg Furlong is in contention to play against Wales next Sunday as he nears a return to competitive action after a year on the sidelines.
Tighthead Furlong has been suffering with calf and back injuries for much of the last 12 months but will play for club side Leinster against Scarlets on Saturday night.
If he emerges unscathed, Ireland hope to include him in their squad to play Wales in Round 1 of the Guinness Six Nations.
Backs coach Mike Catt said: “We really want to see Tadhg get some quality game-time under his belt given how it’s been a while since he last played.
“Obviously he’s an integral part of Irish rugby and our team. He’s a world-class player, so (we want him to) stay safe, fit and healthy and put in a good shift and hopefully he will feel good on the back of it. We hope he recovers well and is able to go again.
“From a tight-five point of view, there’s no way you can simulate game intensity on a day-to-day basis in your club in terms of getting up off the floor, the physical contact and winning those battles and getting up again and going again and again.
“It does take a while to get used to. Some players react very quickly to it. Some take a little bit longer. In Tadhg’s case it depends how long he plays really.”
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Ireland name their team for the trip to Cardiff on Thursday and Catt also confirmed they have a fully fit squad to choose from, with Johnny Sexton expected to play despite a hamstring injury.
The Ireland captain revealed he tweaked the muscle while playing in the Guinness PRO14 last weekend but Catt played down fears he could be a doubt, while winger James Lowe is also in contention after a groin injury.
“Everybody is up and going at the moment,” Catt added.
“There are a few guys we’ll be taking care of over the next few days but we’re expecting everybody to be fully fit for the start of the Wales week.”