Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger says captain James Lentjes will miss the remainder of the Super Rugby season after a horror leg injury against the Melbourne Rebels on Friday.
Lentjes was stretched off in the first half and was taken to Dunedin Hospital, as the Highlanders slumped to a 28-22 defeat - their third loss of the season.
He fell awkwardly when he was being cleaned out of a ruck in the 30th minute and was left lying on the ground, clearly in pain.
The 28-year-old had only become captain this year after the departure of All Blacks Ben Smith and Luke Whitelock.
"Jimmy's broken so I imagine it will be a season [ending injury]," Mauger said.
"They took him off to hospital. They had him here for about 15 minutes just trying to settle him and then off to hospital.
"Jimmy's been outstanding all throughout pre-season, he's led our game really well over the last four games, including tonight, so we're really gutted for him.
"He's had some pretty bad luck over the years with injuries. The lads are devastated for him."
Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith said in an Instagram post his thoughts are with Lenjitis and his family.
The loss of Lentjes is the last thing the Highlanders need after a bad start to the season, which sees them last in the New Zealand conference.
Against the Rebels, an error-ridden start saw them trailing 21-0 and they never recovered.
Two of the Rebels' tries were scored from long-range off Highlanders' errors, while their others came from pressure resulting from turnovers.
The loss was the Highlanders' first defeat at home against Australian opposition since 2014.
"We put our own game under pressure by trying to force things and giving them a couple of runaway tries doesn't help,'' Mauger added.
"Just not really taking opportunities ourselves when we're creating them.
"The game can be easy for us if we take those opportunities and stop trying to force things.
"It's probably a reflection of a young team, but we don't really want to be standing here saying the same things for the next couple of weeks; we've got to take those lessons."
The Highlanders now hit the road for a two-week road trip, which sees them play the winless Bulls in Pretoria and against last year's beaten finalists the Jaguares.
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