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.
Northampton away was the first Gloucester game under David Humphreys last season, but the Director of Rugby told the local media that the Cherry and Whites are a different proposition compared to 12 months ago and are looking forward to the challenge.
Having skippered Gloucester against the Barbarians last week, Nick Wood once again wore the captain's armband on Monday evening as Gloucester United kicked off their Aviva Premiership A League campaign with a bonus point win at Leicester.
Gloucester recorded a 32-20 win over La Rochelle on Thursday evening, and second row Jeremy Thrush was thrilled to pick up the victory on his first taste of a trip to France and the hostile atmosphere.
Gloucester were forced to battle for their 33-20 victory in La Rochelle on Thursday evening, something that centre Bill Meakes said that he and the squad were well prepared for as well as thanking the travelling support for the part they played.
Gloucester got off to a winning start in the European Rugby Challenge Cup last weekend, but Head Coach Laurie Fisher is expecting a much tougher challenge when the Cherry and Whites travel to La Rochelle for Thursday night's Round Two encounter.
Dan Thomas was a try scorer in the 14-62 defeat at the hands of the Barbarians on Tuesday evening, but told GRTV after the game that he'd really enjoyed taking on the Barbarians and locking horns with Ardie Savea at the breakdown.
After a long, hard battle to return to fitness, Henry Trinder made his long awaited comeback in the second half of the 23-10 win over Zebre on Saturday and admitted he was taken aback by the reception he got from the Kingsholm crowd.
After missing out on Gloucester's two recent European fixtures, Jonny May is back on the left wing for Friday evening's Aviva Premiership fixture at Northampton, while Mariano Galarza is named in the matchday squad for the first time this season.