Unbeaten Connacht have mounting injury problems ahead of tomorrow's Parker Pen European Shield clash with Pool Four leaders Sale in Galway.
Connacht coach Steph Nel said: ‘‘Our captain Mark McConnell underwent a back operation on Monday, and will be out for at least eight weeks, while hooker Marnus Uijs also has back trouble and number eight Des Dillon a broken finger.
Flanker Jonnny O’Connor is suspended, and Nel added: ‘‘We could perhaps have got away with losing one or possibly two players, but four?’’
London Irish, top of Pool Six, visit Spanish challengers Valladolid on Sunday, when Pool Five top dogs Bristol will also be on their travels, meeting Viadana in Italy.
Leeds, who head the only group where all four teams are currently level on points, entertain Pontypridd.
It will be Lynn Howells’ first game as head coach of the Welsh club, following his appointment earlier this week.
Henry Paul will make his Gloucester debut in tomorrow’s clash against Caerphilly at Kingsholm.
Gloucester have selected former Bradford Bulls rugby league star Paul in the centre as they look to preserve their 100% Pool Seven record.
Paul started training with his new team-mates last week and launches his full-time union career on the same day as fellow big-money arrival Iestyn Harris lands a first start in Cardiff colours when Heineken Cup opponents Glasgow arrive at the Arms Park.
Gloucester are one of five English clubs boasting unbeaten Shield records, while Leeds also top their qualifying group, despite suffering an opening weekend defeat.
Saracens, who have amassed 109 points from just two starts, rest England men Kyran Bracken and Richard Hill against Vicarage Road visitors Bologna on Sunday.
Scrum-half Bracken is suffering from bruised ribs and will probably sit out next weekend’s return clash in Italy, but should be available for England’s November 10 Twickenham appointment with world champions Australia.
Saracens’ Scottish international lock Scott Murray, meanwhile, failed a fitness test on a groin strain, but prop David Flatman returns from injury.
Parker Pen European Shield fixtures
Friday: Pool One Ebbw Vale v Montauban.
Saturday: Pool Two Pau v Madrid 2012, Petrarca v Colomiers; Pool Three Overmach Parma v Beziers; Pool Four Connacht v Sale, Narbonne v Roma; Pool Five Neath v Bourgoin; Pool Six L’Aquila v Dax; Pool Seven La Rochelle v GRAN Parma, Gloucester v Caerphilly.
Sunday: Pool One Rovigo v Agen; Pool Three Leeds v Pontypridd; Pool Five Viadana v Bristol; Pool Six Valladolid v London Irish; Pool Eight Saracens v Bologna, Bordeaux-Begles v Dinamo Bucharest.