Vodacom Super Rugby
Sam Lane left out Reds squad
Sam Lane and Robbie Fleck (File)
Brisbane - Reds coach Ewen McKenzie says he feels like he's playing a game of snakes and ladders as he battles to deal with the Reds' growing Super Rugby injury toll.
McKenzie has made five changes to the run-on side for Saturday's clash with the Western Force in Perth, with outside centre Joel Rapana named for his Reds debut against his former side.
Flank Liam Gill has been promoted for a daunting tussle against star Wallaby David Pocock, while hooker James Hanson, prop James Slipper and lock Van Humphries are the other fresh faces.
Radike Samo was the biggest casualty from last week's 61-8 mauling at the hands of the Bulls, with the Wallabies flank replaced by Eddie Quirk on the bench.
The Reds have tried to retain some sort of continuity in their backline, with Rapana's inclusion for the injured Jono Lance (broken leg) the only change.
But McKenzie admits it's been hard to develop combinations following a glut of injuries in the backline, with the loss of flyhalf options Quade Cooper (knee), Mike Harris (hamstring) and Ben Lucas (hamstring) particularly damaging.
The Reds had drafted in Sam Lane, son of former Australia centre Tim Lane, to fill the void at No 10, but was omitted from the final match-day 22-man squad.
Lane, 21, signed a short-term contract with the defending Super Rugby champions and joined the squad earlier this week.
Lane finished high school at Bishops in Cape Town and was eligible for the South Africa Under-20 team trials until he injured his knee last year.
He left Western Province to join the Australian Academy in Sydney this season.
"There's a reality there that a dozen players aren't available ... but there's no point offering it up as an excuse," McKenzie said in Perth on Wednesday.
"It's the reality of the competition.
"But we are unfortunately getting them in the same positions.
"Every half a game, you seem to be trying to develop a new combination either on the field or for the next game.
"It is frustrating because your training time should be about taking your team further rather than starting again.
"So it's been a bit like a game of snakes and ladders in some respects.
"The silly part is in three weeks time, we're probably going to get five or six players coming back. We'll have too many players in some positions."
McKenzie backed the ability of 19-year-old Gill and his fellow back-rowers to nullify the influence of Pocock, who has established himself as the game's best breakdown scavenger.
The championship-winning coach was also confident Lance would not be overawed by the occasion of returning to his former stomping ground.
"He's 25, so a bit more mature and been around this level before," McKenzie said.
"I've been impressed by him. He's very cool and a nice guy. He suits us as a team."
With back-to-back losses, the Reds have slipped to eighth overall on the table, and second to the Brumbies in the Australian conference.
But McKenzie has paid little attention to the points tally.
"I don't spend any time looking at the table. I couldn't even tell you where we're sitting on the table or in the conference," McKenzie said.
"I like to wait until the Round 10 mark. That gives you a better idea of what's going on, because everyone would have had a bye."
15 Rod Davies, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Joel Rapana, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Dallan Murphy, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Van Humphries, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Ben Daley
Substitutes: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Eddie Quirk, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Nathan Eyres-Brown