GLOUCESTER'S French hooker Olivier Azam will be out of action for up to 12 weeks following an operation on his injured left shoulder.
The Kingsholm number two will spend the next four weeks in a sling following surgery to repair labral damage before starting his rehabilitation course.
The injury is almost identical to the one he suffered last season to his right shoulder and he is likely to be out of action until the end of February.
Azam suffered the set-back in October but had appeared to be close to a potential return when he resumed contact training before Gloucester's Guinness Premiership trip to London Irish last month.
But the injury, which affects the shoulder's stability, did not settle down and required a subsequent operation. Gloucester's head coach Dean Ryan told www.gloucesterrugby.co.uk. "Everyone at the club is obviously very disappointed for Olivier, particularly after the problems he suffered last year.
"To sustained another serious injury so quickly is disappointing for him and to us because we will miss the huge contribution he makes to the team.
"All we can do now is wish him a speedy recovery so he his back with us as soon as possible."
Azam, who has made four Premiership appearances this season, has scored 12 tries in the 57 games he has played for Gloucester in two spells.
Fly-half Billy Burns was named Man of the Match after the 35-14 European Rugby Challenge Cup victory over Stade Rochelais on Thursday evening, and was full of praise for all his team mates for the win after a short turnaround.
Gloucester have been in good form in recent weeks, but Backs Coach Tim Taylor knows that the Cherry and Whites will have to be at their best on Thursday evening (kick off 7:45pm) against a Stade Rochelais side flying high this season.
Speaking to GRTV after the bonus point win over Bristol, back row Lewis Ludlow revealed that despite a tricky first half, Gloucester backed their skills to come through, a faith that was evident in a strong second half showing.
Willi Heinz scored Gloucester's second try as the Cherry and Whites overturned a disappointing first 40 minutes and 0-6 half time deficit, to earn a 26-18 Aviva Premiership victory over Bristol Rugby on Saturday.
Gloucester's much changed side had to overcome conceding an early try on Thursday evening, but responded in style to down Stade Rochelais by 35 points to 14 in the European Rugby Challenge Cup and set up a mouthwatering return fixture next weekend.
After taking 11 points from their last three games in the Aviva Premiership, including bonus point wins against Wasps and Bristol, Gloucester will be looking to continue their good form when they welcome La Rochelle to Kingsholm.