WALES star Dan Lydiate is closing in on a return to action – and he will be joined on the comeback trail by fellow Newport Gwent Dragons back row forward Darren Waters.
Lydiate, player of the tournament in the 2012 Six Nations, is on course to meet his target of a February return from a broken ankle suffered against Edinburgh last September.
The blindside flanker had a plate removed from his left foot before Christmas and will be looking to prove his fitness with the Dragons before returning to spearhead Wales’ defence of their crown.
A place in the line-up in the curtain-raiser against Ire-land in Cardiff on February 2 is unlikely but he will play a part in the campaign.
Lydiate, who will be leaving Rodney Parade when his contract expires this summer, will then return for a farewell with his region and attempt to cement his spot in the British and Irish Lions squad for their tour of Australia.
Fellow back row forward Waters has already returned to training and will go for a check-up this week as he also eyes a return in early February.
The 27-year-old openside ruptured ligaments in his left knee in the region’s final pre-season friendly against London Irish in mid-August.
It was feared that the combative back row forward would only be ready for a return to the fray in the closing stages of the campaign but the former bricklayer, who penned a full-time deal after impressing with Ponty-pridd in the Premiership, is set to come back ahead of schedule.
“We are in weeks and not months now with these boys and that is a massive boost,” said head coach Darren Edwards.
“It will be nice to give an already competitive back row even more edge.”
The Dragons are now preparing for Saturday’s RaboDirect Pro12 clash against Connacht in Galway, their third game in 10 days after derby defeats to Cardiff Blues and the Ospreys.
There were positives from the performances but the region claimed just one losing bonus point to leave them 11th in the table, two points behind their weekend hosts and eight back on 10th-placed Edinburgh.
“It’s a fast turnaround from the Ospreys game and the schedule is a big test,” said Edwards.
“It was so disappointing to lose against the Blues after dominating the game and the effort and attitude was superb against the Ospreys.
“It was a collective effort but unfortunately their control of territory brought the pressure and Dan Biggar was superb – the only way we could have scored was through getting the ball within 30 metres of their line and he just didn’t allow us to do to that.
“I am sure conditions won’t improve in Galway (the Blues and Ospreys games took place in rain with heavy conditions) but we have just got to deliver the same again, we need another huge performance.
“Heineken Cup qualification looks a long way off but we will fight until the end and I am pleased that these guys are sticking together.
“I know there are some negatives but our squad is young and there are some quality players coming through.”