Vodacom Bulls lock Flip van der Merwe will miss the first two months of the Super Rugby season with a pectoral injury.
Van der Merwe, who was absent for much of the 2014 season with a knee injury, suffered the setback while in pre-season training and has subsequently been ruled out until 15 April after undergoing surgery.
The news will come as a blow to the Bulls who are already without SA U20 lock Paul Willemse, who decided to continue his career abroad. His departure, coupled with the absence of Van der Merwe, means veteran Springbok Victor Matfield will carry a larger load than expected.
However, the loss of Van der Merwe will be offset by the news that long-term casualties, Pierre Spies (bicep) and Arno Botha (knee), will return to training next week. They will be joined by Marcel van der Merwe (knee) and fullback Jürgen Visser (foot), while Springboks Adriaan Strauss (calf) and Handré Pollard (foot) will join up with the squad later this month.
The Bulls will begin their Super Rugby campaign at Loftus on 14 February with a match against the Stormers.
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