Ruan Pienaar's prospects of playing in Ulster's opening European Champions Cup games next month look to have improved.
The Ulster scrum-half sustained a knee injury in South Africa's defeat by New Zealand on Saturday and was expected to be out for six to eight weeks.
However, an Ulster statement on Tuesday said that Pienaar's medial collateral ligament sprain would put him out of action for between four and six weeks.
Ulster face Leicester on 18 October before taking on Toulon a week later.
If Pienaar regains fitness within four weeks, that could open the door to him featuring at Welford Road, although the home game against the defending European champions on 25 October might represent a more realistic return date.
|Ruan Pienaar factfile|
|Born 10 March 1983|
|His father Gysie played 13 times for the Springboks|
|Educated at Grey College, who have produced many Springboks stars|
|Played on South African U19 and U21 World Cup-winning teams|
|Made his Springboks debut against New Zealand in 2006|
|Was part of South African's World Cup-winning squad the following year|
|Played for Natal Sharks for six seasons before moving to Ulster in 2010|
|Helped Ulster reach the 2012 Heineken Cup final|
However, a six-week absence will see the 30-year-old missing both European Champions Cup games.
Pienaar's injury was another blow for a province who no longer can call upon Johann Muller, Stephen Ferris and John Afoa, following their departures from the club.
In addition, lock Iain Henderson has been ruled out for a couple of months because of a hip injury.
Scrum-half Pienaar will miss South Africa's two remaining Rugby Championship games.
The Ulster star sustained the injury after an accidental collision with his South African team-mate Duane Vermeulen.
Pienaar has become a hugely influential player for Ulster since arriving at the Irish province in 2010.
He scored all Ulster's points in their European win over Leicester at Welford Road last January, which ended the Tigers' unbeaten home run of 25 matches in the Heineken Cup.