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Injury crisis dampens Reds' delight at return of Ioane

Back from suspension ... Reds star Digby Ioane.

Back from suspension ... Reds star Digby Ioane. Photo: Anthony Johnson

AFTER weeks of juggling his attacking combinations, Reds coach Ewen McKenzie is delighted his Test winger Digby Ioane is back, but due to an injury crisis will still have to play him in a different position.

Ioane, unavailable for the past four matches due to a dangerous tackle suspension, will return for Friday night's game against the Blues in Auckland, but is expected to appear in the No.13 jersey rather than on the wing.

This is due to Reds midfielder Ben Tapuai breaking his collarbone during their loss to the Stormers in Brisbane on Friday night, which will sideline him for at least 10 weeks - including the Wallabies' mid-season Tests against Scotland and Wales.

While back-up second-rower Van Humphries will miss the Auckland match after losing strength in his right arm, Sam Lane's run at five-eighth is over after just two appearances - he requires a knee reconstruction due to major ligament damage.

Tapuai's absence opens the way for Ioane's appearance at outside centre. McKenzie said yesterday he ''would have a good look at'' selecting Ioane at No.13, ''because that way you keep your back three intact, and you're not having to change combinations''.

McKenzie doesn't have to be reminded his problem all season has been getting settled attacking combinations, especially with No.10 Quade Cooper sidelined all year, and Mike Harris and Ben Lucas only returning last weekend after more than a month on the sidelines with injury.

''Digby's return is good timing, but we still don't have any depth, particularly in the backs,'' McKenzie said yesterday. ''We've just got enough to play each week. We train with one back line and end up playing with another.''

Despite losing by 10 points, McKenzie was encouraged by how Lucas, who replaced the injured Lane at No.10, and inside-centre Harris performed against the Stormers. ''You have to remember that Ben and Mike haven't played for five weeks,'' he said. ''So I thought we adapted pretty well. When you bring blokes in like that without any real background, you suffer a bit with your combinations.

''Look at the Brumbies at the moment. They've going well, and they're getting by with the same guys each week. You can't beat combinations which develop over time.

''But I'm feeling confident the wheels are starting to turn our way.''

The Chiefs, meanwhile, enjoyed a record seventh straight win by defeating the Sharks 18-12 in Durban yesterday to consolidate their top spot.

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