Experienced All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock is poised to make his return to rugby next week after almost three months spent on the sidelines nursing a foot injury.
All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen confirmed today that the 74-test veteran is in line to play for North Harbour in their national provincial championship match against Manawatu in Palmerston North.
The 30-year-old has not taken to the field since injuring ligaments in his foot playing for the Blues against the Rebels in the Super 15 competition in April. There were fears that the most-capped All Blacks prop was in danger of missing the rugby World Cup.
But Hansen allayed fears that the 119kg Woodcock would not be considered for the 26-man squad to play the Tri-Nations away legs in South Africa and Australia.
"Tony's going to play on Tuesday ... that's the plan at this stage. He's travelling pretty good and is ready to go.
"If he comes through those games he's more than likely to come to South Africa with us. That's been the plan from day one and he's ahead of schedule."
Hansen said they had been adhering to advice from the All Blacks' medical team to nurse Woodcock back to fitness. He has taken full part in training in Wellington this week ahead of the All Blacks' Tri-Nations test against South Africa on Saturday.
"The first building block was getting him running, the second one was getting him involved in parts of training. He's now at the point where yesterday he trained completely with the side and he's ready to have a game of football," Hansen said.
The prognosis was also brighter for Blues teammate Isaia Toeava, who is scheduled to play 40 minutes for Auckland against Taranaki on Sunday. The utility back is coming back from a hip injury that forced him out of the Blues' Super 15 campaign in May.
Israel Dagg, however, is yet to have his return to rugby confirmed, with Hansen saying he is on track with his recovery from a complicated thigh injury.
"Daggy is just not quite ready to go yet even though he's starting to train really well. He can run, but we're just building his kicking back into his game and once we get that right he'll get out and play as well."
Hansen said it was hoped the utility back would play for Hawke's Bay before the squad to travel to South Africa and Australia was chosen.