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South Africa captain Jean de Villiers likely out for 8 weeks with injury, will miss June tests

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa - Captain Jean de Villiers will miss the Springboks' June internationals against Wales and Scotland with a knee injury that is expected to sideline him for around eight weeks, the South African Rugby Union said on Sunday.

SARU said de Villiers would "hopefully" be fit for the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship, which also involves world champion New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, starting in August. The prognosis for de Villiers means that he will likely return toward the end of July, with South Africa opening its Rugby Championship against Argentina on August 16.

The centre's absence puts returning second-row veteran Victor Matfield in contention to lead the Springboks next month in his first season back after reversing a decision to retire following the 2011 World Cup. Hooker Bismarck du Plessis would also be a strong candidate after taking over the captaincy at the Super Rugby table-topping Sharks this season.

"Losing our captain is a massive setback," Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer said. "Luckily we have good depth in the squad at centre, but replacing your captain is always difficult. We have a number of good leaders in the squad but I don't want to rush a decision on the captaincy."

The 33-year-old de Villiers had a medical procedure on Sunday to discover the extent of the problem in his left knee after he felt discomfort Saturday morning and was withdrawn from a Super Rugby game for his Cape Town-based Stormers team, SARU said. The national union didn't say if he needed further treatment or what exactly the injury was.

Lock Matfield, who is 37, has been recalled to the national squad for the first time in three years. He formerly played and captained under Meyer at Pretoria-based Super Rugby team the Bulls and could slot back into the lineup for the June games. Du Plessis might be a more obvious choice as stand-in captain because he is first choice in his position.

A Springboks training squad gathered in Durban on Sunday without de Villiers for their first camp of the year. South Africa begins its season against a World XV in Cape Town on June 7, then hosts two tests against Wales and one against Scotland.

No. 2-ranked South Africa is currently the closest challenger to the dominant top-ranked and world champion All Blacks. Meyer stressed in SARU's statement Sunday that South Africa was already planning for its World Cup campaign next year.

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