Two weeks ago, Digby Ioane pulled out of a training session feeling sick, went into the change rooms, curled up in a ball and shivered himself to sleep. Then he started coughing up blood.
Ioane rarely does things by the book, so it's little surprise he was able to put his own spin on the boring old winter 'flu. Instead, he had contracted pneumonia. Strange things have been known to come out of the eccentric backline flyer's mouth but blood was taking things to extremes.
On Saturday night, after spending much of the past fortnight in isolation recovering, Ioane says he is ready to pull out all stops for the Queensland Reds in their quest to bury the Waratahs in Brisbane.
Queensland Reds winger Digby Ioane. Photo: Getty Images
The fact he hasn't been particularly active as the Reds continued their winning run hasn't bothered the almost always upbeat Ioane, who declared with a grin: "I'm the fittest guy in the team."
But that wasn't the case a fortnight ago, when he was felled by a serious illness that could have put him in hospital were it not for the quick intervention of Reds medical staff.
"(I was) really sick, I guess. When you're coughing up blood, it's not a good sign," Ioane said.
"I think it was the captain's run against the Rebels. It hit me pretty hard. I just went back to the change rooms and fell asleep. I went really cold.
"I stayed away from all the boys. That's the worst feeling to experience. Now I'm feeling a lot better than the past two weeks.
"We had our doc and he was on top of it.
"I'm feeling good. The lungs are getting there."
Ioane's return is perfect timing for the Reds, who need a bonus point win over New South Wales to ensure they have the best chance at making the Super Rugby finals. The odds are against them but Ioane's attack and combination with Quade Cooper can only shorten them in the Reds' favour.
The Waratahs are likely test Ioane with a textbook tackle under the ribs, but Ewen McKenzie isn't concerned over the health of his backline bull.
"Digby is an enigma. Digby is either fit or he's not. If he's out there, he's out there playing 80 minutes at 100 per cent or he's not playing at all," McKenzie said.
"There's nothing in between. If he's out there, we won't be looking to take him off the field. He'll be out there for the game."
Ioane's season has been interrupted with injury and suspension, which has watered down his on-field chemistry with Will Genia and the recently returned Cooper.
McKenzie is hoping that all three can rewind the clock to last season and turn it on in a game where the Reds simply can't do without a flurry of tries.
"I think he had a brilliant season last year. For lots of reasons – a bit like the whole season for us – it's been hard to get games. There's been lots of bright, small moments but we haven't collectively come together," McKenzie said.
"This would be a nice game where everything clicked, where we see Digby and Quade and everyone coming together and working and finding that cohesion. It's there. You can see it in training. We just have to get it on the park.
"We've been gradually building. We got to our low point and we've been building our way out of that."
The Reds gave away a whopping 17 penalties in the win over the Highlanders and McKenzie has ordered his troops to improve discipline or play right into the hands of the Tahs, who he expects to slow play and disrupt Queensland's momentum.
"We'll be looking for continuity in the game. They'll be looking for no continuity in the game. It's important that it doesn't become stop-start. We'll be trying to keep the pressure on and keep the game moving. I'm sure they'll be trying to do the opposite," McKenzie said.
"You can try and imagine what their game plan might be. In the end, the more losses you have, the more you dumb it down and make it as simple as it can be.
"They'll play it a bit tighter and bludgeon and do what they do. Their forward play in around the goal-line, pick and drive, is still very good. We won't see too much wind through the hair I don't think.
"I might be wrong, we'll see. They'll just be chasing a win at this point. We're after a little bit more than that."
The Reds welcome back flanker Liam Gill from a hamstring injury, with the banged-up Beau Robinson moving back to the bench.
Gill avoided the breakdown carnage of the Highlanders game and his ability to snatch the ball at crucial times could be a huge asset for the Reds on a night their dreams of defending their Super Rugby title could go up in smoke.