Lions tour in chaos as THREE South African test positive for Covid-19 and country imposes tighter lockdown… but Warren Gatland insists they’ve had assurances any further measures ‘won’t affect’ his team
- The Lions flew out to South Africa with their tour off to a chaotic start already
- Three Springbok players have tested positive for Covid amid a third wave
- Tighter lockdown restrictions have now been imposed by the president
- But Warren Gatland remained calm and insisted the Lions would not be affected
The Lions departed for South Africa last night with their tour in chaos, after three Springbok players tested positive for Covid and the host country imposed tighter lockdown measures.
Officials were scrambling to make contingency arrangements yesterday as a third wave of the pandemic left the rugby event of the year on a knife-edge.
With South African president Cyril Ramaphosa informing his nation of heightened restrictions designed to curb the spread of the Delta variant, plans were taking shape to shift tour fixtures away from the Gauteng province, which is experiencing the worst spike in cases.
The Lions flew out to South Africa but they could be arriving to a chaotic scene when they land
Sbu Nkosi is one of three Springbok players to test positive for Covid-19 ahead of the tour
Warren Gatland and his Lions squad — still coming to terms with the loss to injury of captain Alun Wyn Jones — are due to arrive in the province on Monday, when their charter flight from Edinburgh lands at Johannesburg after an overnight journey.
But instead of playing five matches in Gauteng, including two Tests, a revised schedule is taking shape. It would involve the planned opener against the Emirates Lions at Ellis Park going ahead on Saturday, before a relocation to Cape Town, where the remaining seven games are set to take place.
By spending most of their time in the Western Cape, the tourists would be keeping clear of the most affected area of the country, but they will remain on high alert.
The Springboks have been in their own bubble preparing for warm-up Tests against Georgia — the first in Pretoria on Friday — but they had to suspend training and isolate after Saracens prop Vincent Koch was among three players to return positive tests, along with wing Sbu Nkosi and scrum-half Herschel Jantjies.
Warren Gatland was confident his side won’t be affected by the tighter restrictions in place
The Lions are taking comfort from the updates they have had from their South African counterparts.
After his side’s 28-10 win over Japan at Murrayfield on Saturday, Gatland said: ‘We have had assurances that if they do go into another lockdown or cancel sport, it won’t affect the Lions in terms of training, preparation and the matches.’
Sportsmail understands that significant efforts have been made to ensure the Lions will be in biosecure bubbles, with hotel staff, security guards and other personnel destined to be in close proximity to the tourists all forming a bubble at team hotels for the last week.
South Africa’s Rassie Erasmus also played down any concerns the tour could not be derailed
And the Boks’ World Cupwinning director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus played down fears that the tour could be derailed. ‘I don’t think it’s a big cause for concern but we want to keep everybody as safe as possible,’ he said.
‘We’ve got a squad of 45 players, especially for that reason. Even if there are players inside that who are positive (for Covid), we can draft a player from outside who is on the Test radar at the provinces. We will have enough numbers.
‘I’m fairly sure that in this group of 45, there are very few guys who are infected.
‘Although it disrupts our training sessions, and it’s not ideal, I can remember England had Matthew Proudfoot out after he tested positive and couldn’t coach, and Eddie Jones had to self-isolate. This is not something totally new.’