Not quite out of the woods yet
Niall Woods is content with his progress. Eight games since returning from serious knee ligament damage, the former Blackrock College and London Irish flyer feels he is less than a month away from reclaiming the sharpness and match hardness that will facilitate his challenge for further representative honours.
"The first thing I noticed when I came back was that my reaction time on the pitch to situations had slowed appreciably. That has improved with every game.
"Initially, I was kicking quite a bit when ball came my way; at Harlequins we don't really run ball from inside our own half.
"Still, I was a bit conservative but that was as much down to rebuilding confidence and an awareness of what I was and wasn't capable of doing. Initially, I was beginning to tire after 30 or 40 yards: that has improved to 50 or 60 now.
"I think that certainly within the next month I should be back to where I was before the injury.
"The speed is not there yet but I am working with the guy who coaches the English sprinter Jason Gardiner every Monday at Harlequins and it is improving all the time.
"I was caught in a ruck about three weeks ago, which as you know would be a rare occurrence for me, and my knee was twisted awkwardly. I thought it was going to snap again but I managed to twist my body underneath.
"That has really been the only time where I have been conscious of the injury recently. Obviously it takes a little time to rebuild your confidence.
"I wear a strapping for matches and will do so for a little while but in training I don't, irrespective of whether it is a full contact session or not."
Woods, who joined Harlequins during the summer from London Irish, is enjoying his rugby at the Stoop, particularly since 'Quins gave him an undertaking that he could play at fullback, the position he prefers.
"I have played there for three of the last four games." His case will have been helped by the horrific injury which Jamie Williams sustained last weekend when he broke his leg and dislocated his ankle when crashing into the hoarding at Vicarage Road in the game against Saracens.
Ireland coach Warren Gatland is certainly keeping an open mind about his fullback options for the Six Nations, given injury and form permutations. Woods, though, harbours less lofty goals.
"I'd love to get a run on the A team and that is certainly a goal. Anything other than that would be a surprise at this stage. But I would dearly love to get back into the representative scene.
"I think Eddie (O'Sullivan) has been over to watch a couple of games and he knows what I am capable of having coached me a 'Rock. I just I need a bit of luck at this stage. I didn't get much when I was younger."