The injured All Blacks first five Dan Carter could make his return from a ruptured Achilles tendon as early as next month.
The 27-year-old has not played since he suffered the injury playing for Perpignan in France in January while on a six-month sabbatical from New Zealand rugby.
He told the Press newspaper that the early rounds of the provincial championship are looking promising.
Carter says he can run freely and it's just about getting that spring and bounce back into his injured leg,
The return of Carter will be welcome news for All Blacks coach Graham Henry, who could consider recalling him for the tail end of the Tri-Nations.
The All Blacks open the Tri-Nations against Australia at Eden Park on Saturday then head to South Africa for tests on consecutive weekends.