All Blacks flanker Sam Cane could make his return to rugby this weekend, according to Chiefs coach Colin Cooper.
Cane hasn't played since suffering a horror neck fracture against the Springboks at Pretoria during last year's Rugby Championship. He sustained a small break in a vertebra on the lower right side of his neck and was consigned to a brace for months following emergency surgery.
The 27-year-old was cleared for full training with the Chiefs early last month and Cooper is now quietly confident he could have his co-captain back as soon as Saturday's match against the Blues.
"Sam's really going well," said Cooper. "He could be this week or next week... we're still working through it."
The original prognosis had Cane estimated to return against the Reds on May 24.
The 60-test international would provide a huge boost to the Chiefs in their bid for a playoffs berth.
They've shown glimpses of their best in recent weeks, after a nightmare start to their 2019 campaign. With five rounds of Super Rugby remaining, the Hamilton-based franchise is now sitting just five points out of a finals spot in the NZ conference.
Cane would also have plenty of opportunity to work his way back to match fitness for the All Blacks' bumper test season ahead.
The Tauranga-product will be a key component of All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's World Cup plans, despite now facing some stern competition for his number-seven jersey from Hurricanes powerhouse Ardie Savea.
With the Chiefs still without the servivces of All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick, stand-out flanker Lachlan Boshier now in doubt with a back injury, and Taleni Seu now ruled out of the remainder of the season after suffering a disclocated shoulder, Cane's early return would be timely.
Looking to Friday's north island derby, Cooper is paying no attention to the Blues' recent record, insisting their run of four-straight defeats does no justice to their improved form.
"They're a real threat, and if they cut out those errors, they're a good team. So, like us, probably no-one wants to play them. We're both really fighting to stay in the race [for the play-offs]," Cooper said.
History certainly won't be on the Blues side, having lost their past 15 games against their Bombay neighbours.
Join us at 7:30pm Saturday for live updates of the Chiefs v Blues Super Rugby clash