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 ahead of Saturday's Aviva Premiership fixture at home to Newcastle Falcons (kick off 3pm), Director of Rugby David Humphreys emphasised the importance this weekend of Gloucester building on last week's impressive home victory against the Exeter Chiefs.
Speaking to the assembled national and local media, try-scorer Jonny May was delighted and relieved to have tasted victory on Saturday evening, and is looking forward to the European Rugby Challenge Cup final.
Tom Savage delivered a Man of the Match performance against Exeter Chiefs on his birthday on Saturday evening. He spoke to GRTV after the game about the importance of the European Rugby Challenge Cup win.
Speaking to the local media this week, John Afoa described the hard work that the Cherry and White have been putting in and that he is fighting fit ready for Saturday's European Rugby Challenge Cup semi final clash with Exeter Chiefs.
Gloucester Rugby face Exeter Chiefs this Saturday in the European Rugby Challenge Cup semi-final, and Charlie Sharples, who starts at full back is relishing the challenge of the big Kingsholm occasion.
Gloucester meet the Exeter Chiefs for the fourth time in competitive action this weekend, this time in the semi-final of the European Rugby Challenge Cup. Director of Rugby David Humphreys told the local media this week that this is the sort of game that Gloucester want to be involved in on a regular basis and that he and his team are looking forward to it.
Gloucester Rugby return to Aviva Premiership action against the Newcastle Falcons on Saturday (Kingsholm, kick off 3pm), and make several changes to the side that defeated Exeter Chiefs at home last weekend.