Springbok and Bulls wing Akona Ndungane's planned dream return to Super 14 rugby for Saturday's game against the Sharks ended in heartbreak on Wednesday when he broke his leg - for the second time - at the Bulls training at Loftus Versfeld.
The good news for the Super 14 champions, however, is that veteran Springbok lock Bakkies Botha is fit and ready to help the Bulls finish top of the standings.
Ndungane, 29, was set to make his return to rugby after spending eight months on the sidelines recovering from a broken leg sustained in the Blue Bulls' Currie Cup match against the Leopards at Loftus in August last year.
But his comeback was curtailed when, chasing a ball from a kickoff, he broke his left leg in the same place as before, fuelling doubts that his playing career is over.
Ndungane was likely to come face-to-face with twin brother Odwa in Saturday's match, which would have been Akona's first Super 14 game since last year's final against the Chiefs at Loftus.
"We have no choice but to move forward and focus on the task at hand," said Bulls coach Frans Ludeke moments after Ndungane had left Loftus in an ambulance. "It is too early to tell how severe the damage is, but we will first have a look at the X-rays."
Bulls captain Victor Matfield said Ndungane's injury was a major blow for the team ahead of the Sharks game and that there had been plenty of expectation within the team ahead of the winger's return.
"We were all excited for him because he has been out for so long and had worked really hard to come back. It's a big loss," said Matfield.
"He has been one of our stalwarts over the past five, six years and it is sad that he won't be able to make that comeback now. It goes to show that we must use the opportunities while we are still here."
With Ndungane ruled out, Ludeke has opted to include Francois Hougaard on the wing. Hougaard missed last weekend's match against the Lions, but has recovered from a hamstring injury to take up the left wing berth.
In the other change in the backline, the hard-working Jacques-Louis Potgieter makes his first start of the campaign, coming into the midfield to partner Wynand Olivier. He takes the place of Jaco Pretorius, who picked up an injury against the Lions last week.
And at scrumhalf, Fourie du Preez returns to the starting team in place of Heini Adams.
Starting XV: Zane Kirchner; Gerhard van den Heever, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Wynand Olivier, Francois Hougaard; Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez; Pierre Spies, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann; Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha; Werner Kruger, Gary Botha, Gurthro Steenkamp Replacements: Bandise Maku, Bees Roux, Danie Rossouw, Derick Kuun, Heini Adams, Stephan Dippenaar, Pedrie Wannenburg.