The Highlanders have confirmed captain James Lentjes will be out 6-9 months, after fracturing and dislocating his left ankle during a 28-22 loss to Melbourne Rebels on Friday.
Lentjes was stretchered off Forsyth Barr Stadium in the first half and taken to Dunedin Hospital, when he was being cleaned out of a ruck, fell awkwardly and was left lying on the ground in the 30th minute.
The 28-year-old flanker had only become captain this year, with the departure of All Blacks Ben Smith and Luke Whitelock.
The Highlanders expect Lentjes to undergo surgery within the next 7-10 days and will miss the rest of the Super Rugby season and most of the Mitre 10 Cup season, depending on his recovery.
"Our thoughts are with Jimmy," said Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger. "He has been an outstanding leader for us over the pre-season and the early rounds of the competition.
"The whole squad join with me in wishing the skip a successful recovery and we look forward to seeing him around the environment post-surgery."
Lentjes posted on Instagram, saying that he felt much better, but knew he faced a long recovery.
"Absolutely overwhelmed with all the messages I’ve received since last night," he wrote "Appreciate all of you.
"I’m doing a bit better now my ankle doesn’t look like a question mark. Respect to you @melbournerebels boys for the messages - hell of a clean.
"See you all back on the field soon."
With Lentjes gone for the season, Highlanders have called Otago flanker Slade McDowall into their team.
Co-vice captains Ash Dixon and Aaron Smith will now captain the squad.
The Highlanders are currently en route to South Africa for a match against the winless Bulls in Pretoria, before heading to Argentina to face the Jaguares.
The Highlanders have slipped to 13th in the standings, with the only win in their opening four games coming against the Brumbies.
Highlanders' touring squad
Forwards: Ayden Johnstone, Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon, Nathan Vella, Jeff Thwaites, Siate Tokolahi, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Jack Whetton, Will Tucker, Slade McDowall, Dillon Hunt, Shannon Frizell, Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Jesse Parete, Teariki Ben-Nicholas
Backs: Aaron Smith, Kayne Hammington, Mitch Hunt, Josh Ioane, Teihorangi Walden, Ngane Punivai, Jona Nareki, Michael Collins, Tima Fainga’anuku, Scott Gregory, Josh McKay
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