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Lions tour moves to Cape Town as Springboks struggle with Covid outbreak
Warren Gatland’s men will leave five of their party behind in Johannesburg.

THE LIONS WILL board a flight to Cape Town with some relief today.

It won’t be their entire touring party travelling – with one player and four members of management left behind in isolation in Johannesburg – but there will hopefully be an advantage in leaving the epicentre of the third wave of Covid-19 in South Africa.

The Lions still aren’t 100% certain who they will be playing next on this very strange tour, with the current schedule saying they will meet South Africa A on Wednesday but Warren Gatland having confirmed that a clash with the Stormers looks more likely next up.

While the Lions had relatively good news on the Covid front this week with the player who had tested positive on Wednesday later being confirmed as a false positive – his close contacts also being released from isolation as a result – the Springboks’ situation has gone from bad to worse. 

Last week, they had two positive cases with two close contacts. This week started with lock Lood de Jager testing positive before 11 others in the set-up, including head coach Jacques Nienaber and several key players, followed.

The latest word from South Africa is that there may now be 26 positive Covid-19 cases in the group but the Springboks have gone radio silence since Tuesday, so there hasn’t been official confirmation of that. The lack of communication is a worry, of course, and the Lions don’t appear to be certain of what exactly is happening either.

This week has clearly been a major setback for the Springboks. They have played only one Test since the 2019 World Cup final, fielding a largely second-string side for their 40-9 win over Georgia last weekend.

They haven’t been able to train this week, denying them crucial preparation time ahead of the three-game Test series against the Lions, which is due to get underway in less than two weeks.

Professional sportspeople have had to learn to be adaptable and roll with the punches during the pandemic but the Springboks’ challenge of readying themselves for the Lions is now incredibly demanding. It is hoped that SA Rugby will soon be able to provide some clarity on what happens next.

tadhg-beirne-bundee-aki-and-jack-conan-celebrate-after-the-game Dan Sheridan / INPHO Tadhg Beirne, Bundee Aki and Jack Conan. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The Lions suddenly appear to be in a relatively happy position in terms of Covid but we know how quickly these things can change. Gatland revealed yesterday that 20 of their hotel staff in Johannesburg tested positive for Covid-19, perhaps explaining how the virus got into their bubble.

The Lions have understandably demanded that the staff at their Cape Town hotel are managed much more strictly, preventing them from leaving the hotel to visit family and generally just avoiding them being exposed to the outside world. The Lions know that a big outbreak in their squad could shipwreck them.

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While the Springboks remain grounded for now, there is hope from both sides that they can come out of this purgatory and ready themselves for the Test series.

It looks certain that all three of the Tests will be played at sea level in Cape Town, although that also remains unconfirmed officially.

Moving the second and third Tests from the altitude of Johannesburg down to Cape Town would, of course, be a huge boost for the Lions. 

It means plenty of uncertainty still lies ahead but the tour is rolling on for now.

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