WORCESTER Warriors have been dealt yet another injury blow after centre Francois Venter was ruled out for “four to six weeks” following surgery on a ruptured thumb ligament.

The South African joins the likes of Melani Nanai, Ed Fidow, Dean Hammond and Tom Howe on the growing list of injuries and poses yet more selection headaches for director of rugby Alan Solomons.

Venter signed from PRO14 side Cheetahs in the summer of 2018 and has since become a key figure in a young Warriors side.

The 29-year-old made 24 appearances for Worcester in his opening season last term and signed a two-year contract extension last December.

Venter was previously ruled out for around six weeks in December with an ankle problem and he had suffered a calf issue in pre-season.

Whilst the announcement comes as a blow, there were some more positive updates on a number of senior players as Warriors prepare for their trip to Bristol Bears on Sunday (1pm).

Hooker Niall Annett is nearing a return to action following two months out with a shoulder injury.

Solomons was not expecting him back this early but is hoping to be able to call on him this weekend.

“The news on Niall is very positive,” he said.

“He’s returned earlier than we originally thought. He took part in the practice yesterday and will be in contention for the weekend.

“He had a bit of a tummy bug on Tuesday so wasn’t training but was back in yesterday and taking part.

“It was a physical session so that finger got tested and he was throwing some lineouts so fingers crossed he will be available for Sunday.”

Solomons confirmed the back trio of Jamie Shillcock, Perry Humphreys and Ashley Beck are “100 per cent” fit after missing the 22-21 Bath defeat last Saturday through injury and illness.

Wingers Hammond and Fidow have started running again following their injury lay-offs but neither will be ready to play until the middle of next month.

Scottish squad members Duncan Weir and Cornell du Preez have both been left out of Gregor Townsend’s side for the trip to Italy in the Six Nations this weekend so are expected to keep their places in the Warriors starting line-up on Sunday.

Back row Ted Hill was not involved with England’s training camp this week due to picking up a slight knock but Solomons confirmed it was nothing to worry about and he will be in contention for Worcester selection this weekend.

The other remaining absentee Justin Clegg is “very close” to being available but the following Saturday’s trip to Leicester Tigers’ Welford Road is a more realistic game for the young lock.

Forward Michael Fatialofa continues to progress in his recovery in rehab after his serious spinal injury at Saracens in early January while wing Nanai is out for the season.

Warriors face the daunting prospect of an in-form Bristol side who beat second-placed Northampton Saints 20-14 at Franklins Gardens last weekend to move into the top four.

Worcester did the double over Bears last season, however, edging a thriller in a 27-25 win at Ashton Gate after dishing out a thumping 52-7 defeat to Bristol at Sixways earlier in the campaign.