London - British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton is set to miss the first four months of the European season following the recurrence of a neck injury, it was announced Tuesday.
The statement from the Cardiff Blues, the Wales flanker's club, means Warburton will miss Wales's end of year home Tests against Australia, Georgia, New Zealand and South Africa.
The Blues said that Warburton had "exacerbated" the injury in training this week.
Warburton, 28, had yet to make his first appearance of the season after a post-Lions break before returning to training, having led the combined British and Irish Lions side to a drawn series away to New Zealand, the reigning world champions.
"Sam Warburton will undergo surgery following a recurrence of a long-standing neck injury," Cardiff said.
"The Cardiff Blues flanker, who led the British and Irish Lions to a drawn Test series with New Zealand in the summer, exacerbated the injury in training this week.
"He has undergone scans and has been reviewed by a consultant, who confirmed the management plan.
"It is likely that Sam will miss a period of up to four months," the statement added.
Warburton has been capped 74 times by Wales and has led the Lions on their lasty two tours, including their victorious trip to Australia in 2013.
Had he been fit, Warburton would likely have been a mainstay of Wales coach Warren Gatland's side for the November and December Tests.
But his absence paves the way for Ospreys and Lions back-row Justin Tipuric to take over at openside flanker in Warburton's absence.
Wales face Australia in Cardiff on November 11, before home internationals Georgia and New Zealand precede their final Test of 2017, against South Africa on December 2.
One encouraging piece of news is that, if the current prognosis holds, Warburton should be fit for Wales's Six Nations opener against Scotland on February 3.
But Warburton's absence is another blow to Cardiff, who recently saw fellow flanker Ellis Jenkins sidelined for up to 12 weeks with a hamstring injury.