Jean de Villiers has "significant" knee ligament damage and will likely find out later this week if he has a realistic chance of recovering in time to captain South Africa at next year's World Cup.
The centre (pictured) dislocated his knee cap in the Springboks' 12-6 loss to Wales in Cardiff on Saturday and scans have revealed the damage is extensive, with no timeframe yet put on his recovery.
"The scans revealed significant ligament damage to the inside of his knee and the supporting muscles," team doctor Craig Roberts said. "Jean will return to South Africa and see an orthopaedic specialist in Cape Town early in the week. He has had previous surgery on this knee and the further management of the injury is dependent upon the specialist's recommendations."
The loss of De Villiers, both as a captain and key decision-maker in the backline, would be a significant blow to South Africa's chances at the September 18 to October 31 tournament in England. The 33-year-old injured his knee five minutes into his Springboks debut against France in 2002 and did not play for the national side again for almost two years.
The Wales defeat marked a disappointing end to what has been a mixed year for coach Heyneke Meyer, who insisted he was pleased to have at least grown the depth of the squad in 2014. South Africa's win percentage of 71 (10 out of 14 tests) stacks up very favourably to their performances in the years prior to the last three World Cup tournaments, when they hovered around the 50 percent mark.
"Statistics showed us the year before a World Cup is always tough and our aim was to work hard and ensure we still perform well," Meyer said.
"We learnt valuable lessons from the defeats in Cardiff and Dublin (against Ireland), while we came very close in Perth (Australia) and Auckland (New Zealand). Although the season wasn't perfect, I think we've still done well.
"With all the injuries to key players, and our overseas-based players not available at stages during the season, we were also forced to build our depth, which can be seen as a positive. We have nine months of very hard work ahead before we head out to England for the World Cup."