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.
Henry Purdy scored two memorable tries against London Welsh at Kingsholm on Saturday, and attributed the first one to hard work on the training ground before describing how much he's enjoying playing his rugby alongside friends like Callum Braley.
Gloucester face London Welsh for the third time this season when they meet at Kingsholm in the Aviva Premiership on Saturday (kick off 3pm), but Director of Rugby David Humphreys insists his team are prepared for a tough game against the Exiles.
Billy Burns was a late call up to the Gloucester team that lost narrowly to the Leicester Tigers at Welford Road on Friday evening and, speaking to GRTV post match, was full of praise for his team-mates but admitted that defeat was tough to take.
Speaking after what he described as an 'arm wrestle' up front, skipper Tom Savage couldn't fault his side's effort and commitment on the night at Welford Road but insisted that his side will keep on battling, starting at home to London Welsh next weekend.
A number of the Gloucester Rugby squad this week benefitted from an initiative organised by Circle 2 Success (C2S) and the Rugby Players Association (RPA) to help players develop their business planning skills.