BIRMINGHAM (AFP) - Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers has been ruled out of the Rugby World Cup after suffering a fracture to his jaw, an injury coach Heyneke Meyer described as a massive blow to the team.
He sustained the fracture in South Africa's 46-6 victory over Samoa in a Pool C match in Birmingham on Saturday.
It is the second time in two months that de Villiers, winner of 109 caps in an illustrious 13-year international career, has broken his jaw, having first fractured it playing in South Africa's first defeat by Argentina in August in Durban.
"Jean is not only our captain and one of the most experienced players in the squad, but he is also the glue of this team and to lose him is very sad," said Meyer.
It was a cruel stroke of luck for the 34-year-old centre, who missed the 2003 World Cup because of a serious knee injury and the 2007 final triumph when he was injured in the opening pool game.
He barely made this World Cup after returning from a long layoff from a serious knee injury suffered against Wales in November.
"After injuring his knee last November in Cardiff, he worked incredibly hard to get back to full fitness and the plans worked out perfectly, but rugby is a physical sport and injuries happen," Meyer said.
"We are all very heartbroken for him and we will miss his influence a lot. He has been very unlucky with injuries, but his character clearly showed when he had to go back on the field when Jesse Kriel picked up an injury."
De Villiers was replaced during the Samoa game by Kriel, the latter forced off with a bloodied face, meaning the skipper had to bravely take to the pitch again.
Meyer added: "Jean has fought back from all his injuries and this is the kind of character and fighting spirit we will need to show going forward in this competition.
"While this is a huge and emotional setback for the team, we will now have to regroup and refocus before we start our preparations for Saturday's match against Scotland."
Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts said the fracture was on the opposite side of de Villiers' jaw to the injury against Argentina in August.
"Jean took a heavy blow to the right side of his jaw in the 72nd minute of the match," said Roberts.
"X-rays and scans after the game confirmed our fears that it was fractured. The left side of his jaw was fractured on the previous occasion. He will return to South Africa for further specialist treatment.
"Apart from Jean's injury, there were a lot of bumps and bruises following a very physical match but we will re-assess those in the next day or two."
Influential lock Eben Etzebeth also went to hospital for X-rays while arguably the best player on the pitch in the first-half was de Villiers' midfield partner Damian de Allende, but he too had to have a tweaked knee assessed.
After falling to a shock 34-32 defeat by Japan in their opening Pool C match, the Boks got their World Cup campaign solidly back on track with their win over Samoa.
A tough encounter against Scotland at Newcastle's St James Park is followed four days later by a game in the Olympic Stadium against the United States, beaten 25-16 by Samoa in their opener.
"I asked the senior players to put up their hands and they did," said Meyer, who had - along with de Villiers - come under pressure to resign following the loss to Japan.