THE Ospreys' injury crisis has deepened again with Hanno Dirksen set to undergo knee surgery which will rule the wing out for the rest of the season.
Last term's top try-scorer has been nursing a cartilage problem in his right knee since the summer, and the operation is set to keep the 21-year-old sidelined for around six months.
Dirksen joins a growing list of casualties at the Liberty Stadium, with Wales stars Alun Wyn Jones, Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones all facing lengthy absences.
Their international colleagues, lock Ian Evans and fly-half Dan Biggar, are also crocked, though the Ospreys are hopeful they will be fit for next month's Heineken Cup double-header against Toulouse.
But the news is not so encouraging for Dirksen, who has become an integral player for the Ospreys since rising to prominence last season.
"It's a big loss," said assistant coach Gruff Rees. "He's seized on his opportunities and he's been in a rich vein of form since last season.
"We've continued to back him and he's been a breath of fresh air in terms of wanting the ball and not having any fear of whoever he's playing against.
"We'll miss that in terms of physical presence and someone who has got a bit of toughness about them. That's tough to replicate.
"Hopefully he'll get a proper procedure, get a good pre-season and, at the end of next year, hopefully we can get him on Wales's radar as well."
South African-born but a USA youth international, Dirksen could qualify to play for Wales on residential grounds from January 2014.
Following the summer departures of wings Shane Williams, Tommy Bowe, Nikki Walker and Tom Prydie, Dirksen's injury could leave the Ospreys light out wide.
But just like Dirksen did last term, Rees is confident the region's younger players can flourish in others' absence.
"We have looked at our pool of wings over a period of time," he said.
"We were addressing the same question in the summer when Eli (Walker) was out for a fair while. We've explored options with Tom Grabham, Tom Isaacs, Will Price, Richard Fussell and Ross Jones. There are options there.
"Like we always do, we'll trawl around and keep looking for any gems which may be there on a limited budget."
The Ospreys' head physio Chris Towers added: "We've spoken to several specialists and the view is that it is in Hanno's best interests to have the surgery now.
"We've taken a long-term view on what is best for Hanno's career moving forward.
"At this stage we are probably looking at a post-op rehab process of around five to six months. It's not something we can rush."