South Africa captain Warren Whiteley has returned from six months on the sidelines to feature for his Japanese club Docomo Red Hurricanes, a major boost for his Super Rugby side the Lions ahead of the 2018 season.
Loose forward Whiteley missed the entire second half of the year, after suffering an injury in the Boks' 37-15 victory over France in Durban in June.
But he completed a full 80 minutes in Japan this past weekend, a major step forward in his bid to return to full fitness, and is expected to return to South Africa in the coming weeks for the start of the Super Rugby campaign.
"I had two brief conversations with him, but he is very positive. He played about 20 minutes before Christmas and played a full game this past weekend," Lions coach Swys de Bruin told Netwerk24.
The 30-year-old captained the Lions for much of their 2017 Super Rugby campaign, but missed their run in the knockouts as they reached the final, only to lose at Ellis Park to the Canterbury Crusaders.
Whiteley's return will be a boost for club and country. Lock Eben Etzebeth was handed the captaincy of the national side in his absence for what was another difficult campaign for the national side.