RICHARD HILL is ready to end four weeks of frustration by featuring in England's World Cup semi-final showdown with France on Sunday.
The Saracens and Lions flanker, who has won 61 England caps, should be reunited with back-row colleagues Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio when Clive Woodward announces his starting line-up early today.
Hill's World Cup campaign has been restricted to just a 50-minute outing against Georgia in Perth exactly a month ago.
He was forced to sit out remaining Pool C matches against South Africa, Samoa and Uruguay, plus England's tense quarter-final victory over Wales last weekend, because of hamstring trouble.
But a patient, and often frustrating, waiting game is now over for one of world rugby's outstanding players.
"I have been guided very well by the doctor and medical team. The whole group of them have kept a very positive focus on it," said Hill yesterday.
"The most frustrating thing is that it has been a week-by-week assessment almost, and the opinion each week was to try and get me fit for the next game.
"That became the hardest bit when you start getting two or three games down the line, and you are not putting the shirt on and trotting out for the game.
"There were certainly occasions when I wondered if it was going my way, is the whole summer-worth of preparation going to be lost? But the medical crew kept reassuring me, and made me have a good outlook.
"Throughout most of it, I tried to stay positive. Obviously, I did have some down patches during that, when you just felt like progress wasn't going to happen, but this last week has gone really well," he added.
Pinpointing exactly when the injury happened remains a mystery, but it was serious enough to deny England the services of an imperious performer.
"I don't know when I did it exactly," said Hill. "I remember standing up, and having more of a sensation, really, that I wasn't used to or aware of in my leg, and I didn't want to push it.
"At that stage of the game, the scoreline was looking healthy, and it was felt that I should come off as a precaution. I never imagined that when I went off, how long it would take to recover.
"The management have been very supportive - I couldn't have asked for any more. I was very much aware that they wanted me back on the pitch, but never once did they put it across that I either had to reach a certain level by say Sunday, or that would be me home.
"Within my mind, a couple of times I might have thought there are only so many times I could be given a lifeline. But looking back on it now, I am just delighted to be fit and available again.
"Towards the end of last week, some significant progress was made and I really started to feel comfortable.
"My primary concern now, is getting back into full training and fitting in seamlessly, with a bit of luck. I would love to be involved on the weekend.
"If I come into the team, I want to play the way I always do. I would like to think I will come in with a good desire and enthusiasm, and make a mark within the game," he added.
"My aim is to be back playing and to do whatever I can. It is too much of a team game, especially when you get to the semi-final of a World Cup, for one person to be making a dramatic impact that turns the whole performance."
And as for England's perceived struggle to make an impact on the competition, despite winning five games out of five, Hill is not unduly concerned.
"Fundamentally, I don't think we have gone massively wrong. If we had, then I don't think we would still be in this tournament," he said.
"It is just a case of sharpening up in certain aspects of our play, and hopefully apply pressure on the opposition and play the game that we want to play."
While Hill prepares for his Test return, Austin Healey is travelling back to Leicester after less than two days in Australia.
The versatile Tigers back was called out on stand-by following England's quarter-final win against Wales.
Healey arrived in Sydney early on Tuesday morning, but was freed to return to his club yesterday and departed on an afternoon flight.
Full-back Josh Lewsey and wing Iain Balshaw have both been declared available for selection to face France following fitness tests.
Lewsey has shrugged off a hamstring problem and Balshaw, who had picked up an earlier ankle knock, has recovered from a knee injury.
Woodward's team is likely to show changes from the one that defeated Wales, with Hill, prop Trevor Woodman and possibly in-form Bath back Mike Catt set for starting roles.
Lewsey should also return in the number 15 jersey, meaning that Jason Robinson would revert to his normal England starting position of right wing.