Sam Warburton is to have an operation on his neck which looks likely to rule him out of most of this season.
The British and Irish Lions captain has been suffering from a neck injury for a while, but the Cardiff Blues have revealed the problem was made worse during training this week and now Warburton is to undergo surgery.
The Blues say it is likely the former Wales skipper will be out for four months – putting him out of the four-Test autumn series in November and placing a large question mark against his readiness for next year’s Six Nations.
Warburton, 28, has yet to figure for the Blues this season after being given an extended break following his campaign leading the Lions to a drawn series in New Zealand.
It was hoped he would return within a fortnight to assist the Blues’ Guinness Pro14 campaign, but a review by a consultant has wrecked those plans.
Warburton’s absence in the autumn means Wales coach Warren Gatland will hope another Lions tourist, Ross Moriarty recovers quickly from the back injury that ended his tour prematurely.
Blues coach Danny Wilson said: “It’s a major blow for all concerned, it’s a blow for Cardiff Blues and Wales. We all hoped he would be back playing soon.
“It is a long-standing issue that he has had. He gets pain and discomfort on and off. The feeling was that two months off would help it settle completely and do him a world of good.
“He came back feeling confident about it. He went through the protocols when he came back to training and during the contact element, just on pads, it began to flare up again. We looked into it in more detail and it has led to where we are.
“He is obviously extremely frustrated. He thought that after two months he would come back really fresh and that is not the case but this is the right thing for him to do.
“He’s a very good professional and I’m sure he will apply himself to his usual standards.”
The injury is the latest to strike the Blues back-row with fellow opensides Ellis Jenkins and Jim Botham also currently sidelined.
There are currently 10 players out of action and Wilson added: “We’re only two games into the season but it has been well documented, we have nine first team players unavailable. There’s one or two on their way back but you have to get on with it.
“It gives opportunities to develop young Welsh players, which will help us in the future but for now, we need to get some of our high end pros back on the pitch.
“Gethin Jenkins is probably a couple of weeks away but we are taking it step by step. It is important that when players come back they are coming back for the long term.
“Nick Williams is going through the protocols. He’s taking a little longer than we hoped and is in the middle of it now, so we will know Thursday whether he will be available for the weekend.
“Kristian Dacey is still a couple of weeks away. George Earle is making good progress and should be available for selection this weekend in some form. Like any player that has been out and not played over a long time he has to go through the right processes to make sure he’s not dropped into the deep end but he should be available.”