Highlanders utility back Buxton Popoali'i is to undergo heart surgery, ruling him out of the entire Super Rugby season.
In what comes as a major blow for both player and franchise, Popoali'i will go under the knife later this month having been diagnosed with a longstanding heart condition.
The Highlanders' general manager, Roger Clark, said the franchise were saddened to learn the news but maintained the player and his family had their full support.
"While we, and Buxton himself, are devastated at this news, it is clear that he needs to focus entirely on his own health and well-being," Clark said.
"Buxton is currently feeling and doing well and our medical staff are managing his care. Buxton is a very popular member of the Highlanders and we are all supporting him through what is a very difficult time."
Popoali'i has played 15 games for the Highlanders since 2012 and a combined 49 games at NPC level for Otago and Wellington.
- Fairfax Media
What do you make of the Blues signing Jimmy Cowan?Related story: (See story)