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.
Speaking to the local media this week, David Humphreys insisted that Gloucester are looking forward to kicking off the new European Rugby Challenge Cup against Brive on Thursday evening, although an unfamiliar opponent and a five day turnaround will pose a challenge.
Director of Rugby David Humphreys felt that his Gloucester side put themselves in a position to put Saracens under real pressure at Allianz Park on Saturday, praising his team's commitment and defence, while admitting that a lack of accuracy hit their chances in the second half.
Speaking to the local media at Allianz Park, Tom Savage was disappointed after the defeat at Saracens, but claimed Gloucester did plenty of good things and could've taken more than a losing bonus point.
In case you missed it, there was plenty of activity on the official Gloucester Rugby website following the 55-0 European Rugby Challenge Cup win over CA Brive, including a number of post match video interviews.
The Cherry and Whites ran in six tries in beating CA Brive 55-0 on Thursday night. An emphatic second half performance saw the hosts run in five tries to get the European campaign off to a flying start.
Gloucester took their time to go through the gears in Thursday's European Rugby Challenge Cup opener but turned on the style in the second half to emerge 55-0 winners and get their campaign off to a winning start.