Western Force flanker Angus Cottrell will miss the rest of the Super Rugby season after breaking his leg in Friday night's 30-7 loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Cottrell was taken to hospital after his lower left leg twisted awkwardly under the weight of two Crusaders defenders in the dying minutes of the match.
The injury capped a disappointing night for the Force, who started the round in fourth spot but could slip to as low as eighth by Sunday.
Cottrell has been one of the Force's most consistent players this season, and Force coach Michael Foley backed the 24-year-old to rebound strongly from the injury.
"His mum and dad are here thankfully so they're with him and our doctor at the hospital," Foley said.
"He's an incredibly tough bugger. For such a young guy with so little experience, he's a very resilient person.
"He comes from a very good family. He'll recover well and play better again next season."
The Force trailed 16-0 at halftime, but a 49th-minute try to Dane Haylett-Petty gave them a sniff of victory.
However, any chance of a boilover was snuffed out in the 71st minute when Force lock Sam Wykes was sin binned.
The Crusaders were awarded two penalty tries in the next nine minutes as their rolling mauls proved too hard to stop.
The Force entered the match missing almost half of their preferred starting line-up.
Their backline was particularly depleted, with Kyle Godwin (knee), Solomoni Rasolea (arm), Alby Mathewson (ankle), Marcel Brache (ankle) and Luke Morahan (hamstring) all set to return after the three-week Test window.
Ben McCalman's groin injury robbed the Force of much-need grunt, and they were made to defend grimly for much of the first half as the Crusaders launched wave after wave of attack.
In the first 22 minutes, the Force had just 12 per cent territory, but their defence managed to hold firm.
Two penalties from Colin Slade gave the Crusaders a 6-0 lead, and their dominance eventually paid dividends in the 27th minute when Israel Dagg beat two defenders to gift winger Johnny McNicholl a try.
The Force showed more fight in the second half, but Wykes' sin binning for disrupting the Crusaders' powerful maul proved to be the killer blow.
Although the Force are likely to tumble out of the top-six, they are still well placed to secure a maiden finals berth once the Super competition resumes after next month's Test window.
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