DIRECTOR of rugby Gary Gold says he is “quietly optimistic” Francois Hougaard and Ryan Mills will be fit for Worcester Warriors’ Aviva Premiership clash with Northampton Saints at Sixways on Saturday (1pm).

Talismanic scrum-half Hougaard has not featured this season for Warriors after picking up a groin injury while on international duty with South Africa.

Versatile back Mills has also had an injury-hit campaign as shoulder and hip problems were followed by a quad issue sustained in Warriors’ 24-19 loss at Gloucester in late September.

But Gold was hopeful the two “game breakers” would be available for the game against Saints as Worcester bid to end their seven-match losing streak in the league.

“They are looking good,” said Gold who has recently returned from South Africa.

“They are both training, so I am quietly optimistic they can get through a couple of days of training and I am excited that they may be available for selection for this week.”

Gold admitted it had taken “a little bit longer” for Hougaard to recover from his injury following his “unjust” exit from the South Africa team in mid-September.

But he stressed it was important the 29-year-old was in a “healthy state” and said he was now itching to get back on the pitch.

“At the end of the day player welfare is the most important thing,” Gold continued.

“There is no way we can play a player who is struggling with injury as it doesn’t benefit the team.

“It has taken a little bit longer (than we anticipated) and we have had to do everything that we can to make sure Hougaard is in a healthy state, but I think he is now.

“He has trained well, he will have a day off today and we will see how it goes on Thursday.”

Gold added: “I think he really is (champing at the bit to get out there).

“Obviously it was very disappointing for him to have exited the Springboks the way he did.

“It was very unfortunate and unjust in the way he was treated.

“But he is 100 per cent committed to our cause now so we have got to make sure he is 100 per cent (fit) first as we can’t throw him into the deep end.”

Mills, who can play at centre or fly-half, and Hougaard both played key roles in steering Warriors to safety last season.

And Gold believes the potential half-back pairing will have just as much influence this term.

“They are game breakers, leaders and very good rugby players,” Gold said.

“That’s not taking anything away from the guys that we have got at the moment, but they are guys who can dictate a game for you.

“People around them are going to have confidence when they play.

“It will be good (to have them back), but we must understand that they have not played rugby for a long time, so it may take them a little while to get into the game.

“But we are excited to have any of our players back from injury.”