The Lions tour to to South Africa is hanging on by its fingernails, or should that be claws ?. Having beaten the Cell C Sharks 54-7 the previous Wednesday, the British & Irish Lions faced the same opposition on Saturday.
The Lions were due to play the Vodacom Bulls, but due to a Covid outbreak in the home squad, the match had to be cancelled.
Jamie George (Saracens, England) was named captain of a starting XV which had 13 changes to the team that played the same opposition a few days earlier, with only Elliot Daly (Saracens, England) and Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester Warriors, Scotland) retained.
“It’s obviously been a slightly turbulent week, but we remain determined to keep rolling with the punches,” said Gatland.
“In many ways, the challenges we’ve faced this week have strengthened our resolve to do everything we can to overcome the challenges created by covid.
“The feeling in the camp on Wednesday night was just to give it a crack – I was really proud by how everyone reacted, particularly the match day squad who would have never prepared for a game like that before.
“Saturday was another opportunity to see how the boys go and for us as coaches to try out a few more combinations ahead of the Test series.
The Lions and the Springboks have also been affected by Covid infections. South Africa had to cancel their international against Georgia, last Friday, and the Lions themselves have had a pretty testing week, mostly of the PCR variety.
An unnamed Lion tested positive last Wednesday the player has now subsequently produced negative results and there are no other cases in camp.
It has also emerged that not every member of the touring party has been vaccinated, it was left up to each individual to decide whether they wanted the jab or not, and whilst the majority took up the offer there are some who declined.
Saturday was at least a great work out for the Lions, who ran in 11 tries to beat the Sharks 71-31.
The Sharks were extremely competitive in the first half, and to go into the break level 26-26 was a great credit to them. But scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse’s 46th-minute red card for a cheap-shot elbow to Liam Williams’ head swung the game.
Sadly for the South African outfit, Stephen Spielberg didn’t write the ending for this Jaws sequel, and it was the Lions that came out on top in the battle of Surf v Turf.
So the 2021 tour rumbles on as the Lions head to Cape Town to face South Africa A on Wednesday. In the meantime Harlequins fly half, Marcus Smith, has flown out as injury cover for Finn Russell who may not play again during this tour.
South Africa captain Siya Kolisi has tested positive for Covid-19, two weeks before the first Test against the British and Irish Lions.
Dan du Preez, Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Scarra Ntubeni and Makazole Mapimpi, plus three of the management team, have also tested positive for coronavirus.
It takes the total number of cases to more than 20 in the Springbok camp. However, a “large group” of South Africa players returned to training on Sunday after six days of isolation.
We are living in a very strict bio-secure environment where we are governed by strict protocols, we have a medical advisory group in place that has independent virologists and infectious disease specialists and advisors on what we can and can’t do.
The British & Irish Lions Managing Director Ben Calveley reiterated that the team are doing everything in their power to make this tour work. “It’s the same for the Lions and Springbok camp, we’re tested frequently, a minimum three times a week. We have no interaction with the general public, we’re playing in far fewer venues than would have been the case, and of course we don’t have fans in the grounds. We’re doing everything we possibly can to make sure this Tour will go ahead and we are determined to make sure it goes ahead.”