NEWPORT Gwent Dragons number eight Tom Brown will be out of action until the RaboDirect Pro12 run-in after having an operation on his left ankle.
The 29-year-old landed badly at a lineout in the 30-11 defeat to Connacht in Galway at the start of the month.
Scans revealed there was no fracture, but the influential back-row forward needed to go under the knife after damaging ligaments and will be sidelined for three months.
The injury is a hammer blow for the Dragons, who were looking at Brown to lead the charge in the absence of Toby Faletau during the Six Nations.
With his strong ball-carrying, energy and work rate, Brown has been one of the bright sparks in a miserable season for the region.
His injury leaves the Dragons low on numbers because Ieuan Jones, who was impressive in last Thursday’s Amlin Challenge Cup loss at Bayonne, is also set to be on international duty over the coming weeks in the Under-20s Six Nations.
The blow is cushioned slightly by the imminent return of flanker Darren Waters, who damaged knee ligaments in the region’s final pre-season fixture.
The abrasive openside could have had a run-out against Wasps on Thursday but is not registered for Europe, and a comeback in the LV= Cup against the Ospreys a week on Saturday is likely.
That is a welcome boost, but without Faletau, Brown and Jones the Dragons are short of out-and-out number eights.
The leading candidate will be Lewis Evans, who started out in the position before specialising as a blindside/openside, while lock/flankers Andrew Coombs and Jevon Groves have played number eight in the Premiership.
The Dragons have had awful luck with injury in the back row this season with Waters’ pre-season injury followed by blows for Hywel Stoddart (out for the season with a knee injury), Dan Lydiate (set for a mid-February return from a broken ankle) and now Brown.
Wasps head into Thursday’s game at Rodney Parade with top spot in Pool Three of the Amlin Challenge Cup secure thanks to their 71-7 hammering of Mogliano at home.
They will be looking to secure a home tie in the quarter-finals by doing the double over the Dragons.