Springbok scrum-half Fourie du Preez will be out of action for the rest of the year as his ankle injury is worse than initially feared.
Du Preez went under the knife in Pretoria on Thursday when doctors discovered the damage to be worse than they could see on scans.
This led to them putting a screw into the ankle which will turn the 32-year-old's three-month rehabilitation period into a six-month lay-off.
This is a major setback for Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer as Du Preez - who was originally set to miss the Rugby Championship - has now also been ruled out of the Boks' end-of-year tour to Europe, where they will face Ireland, England, Italy and Wales.
Du Preez will be in plaster for two months and must be confined to a bed for four weeks.
"It's a very tough blow for me," Du Preez told Supersport.
"I was very disappointed when I woke up from the operation and they told me, but that is the way it goes. It's a long tough road back and it will take some time, but I will remain positive."
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said the news was a " huge setback" to his plans.
"It's a massive blow to lose yet another world-class player and a key player due to an injury," said Meyer.
"Fourie is also a dynamic leader and one of the vice-captains in our team and his injury is a huge setback.
"Fourie has been brilliant since he returned to the Springboks last year and he will be missed. However, this provides an opportunity for other scrum-halves to prove themselves and make the step up when the opportunity arises."
According to Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts, the procedure Du Preez underwent on Wednesday confirmed the syndesmosis was unstable.
"The nature of the injury means he required surgical screw fixation and he will be out of rugby for approximately six months," said Roberts.
The 70-Test veteran will spend the next few months in Pretoria before starting his rehabilitation but will first consult his club, Suntory Sungoliath, before deciding whether he will return to Japan or stay in South Africa,
With the Japanese club season finishing in February and the player unlikely to be running before January, he will miss the bulk of the campaign.
At the moment, six Springboks who featured for South Africa in the last year are not available for the Castle Lager Rugby Championships. They are Du Preez, Jaque Fourie (ankle), Pieter-Steph du Toit (knee), Arno Botha (knee), Pierre Spies (bicep) and Flip van der Merwe (knee).