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'The schedule is the schedule' - Lions won't accommodate Rassie's wish

Warren Gatland’s men are due to face the Stormers this weekend.

The Lions at training today.
The Lions at training today.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

LIONS ASSISTANT COACH Neil Jenkins has underlined that the tourists are not willing to change their schedule this weekend in order to play a second game against South Africa A.

The Lions will face a very strong South Africa A team in Cape Town tomorrow but aren’t interested in playing them again on Saturday, when the tourists are due to face the Stormers a week out from the first Test against the Springboks.

SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus yesterday said he would “beg” for another Lions v South Africa A fixture as he looks to get his Springboks players up to match speed ahead of the Test series, which begins in just 11 days’ time on 24 July.

The Boks spent last week in self-isolation in their hotel rooms in Johannesburg due to a Covid-19 outbreak in their camp. They returned to training on Sunday – still missing several key players – but Erasmus is concerned about their poor preparation for the Lions series.

The Springboks were due to play Georgia last Friday but that game was cancelled. The only Test the South Africans have played since the 2019 World Cup final was their first clash with Georgia two weekends ago.

While Erasmus added some spice to this week by saying he was “sure Warren [Gatland] and the guys wouldn’t be afraid or scared or say no” to a second clash with South Africa A, the Lions are sticking to their guns.

“Gats felt that the schedule is the schedule,” said Jenkins today. “We play the Stormers on Saturday – we’re meant to anyway – and they deserve the opportunity to play against us.

marcus-smith-and-conor-murray Conor Murray with new tour arrival Marcus Smith. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s the same as being here once every four years, for the countries that we tour it’s once in every 12 years. It’s South Africa A tomorrow and the Stormers on Saturday as far as I’m concerned.

“I believe that’s what Gats wants and I’m sure that’s what will happen. There’s an opportunity for the Stormers boys to play against us as well.”

Erasmus yesterday went as far as to suggest that it would be safer for the Lions to play against South Africa A again on Saturday given the concerns over Covid.

“We’ve tested negative now two days in a row, we don’t have a positive case within the squad currently in our Cape Town hotel,” said Erasmus. “We are in a totally hard bubble, moving nowhere. The British and Irish Lions squad is negative.

“My honest opinion is that to play a team like the Stormers or the Sharks, I think the chances of infection is as good as we had when we played Georgia.”

However, the Lions will ignore that suggestion from Erasmus as they plan on playing the Stormers this weekend.

owen-farrell Owen Farrell speaks to the squad. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s up to the boss,” said Jenkins. The schedule is the schedule and I’m one for that as well.

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“Covid is horrific, there’s no doubting that throughout the world, and we’ve had our issues back home with lockdowns. It’s the same as what’s going on here, we respect every decision that’s made. It is what it is and we’ll crack on with that.” 

The Springboks could now face the Bulls on Saturday instead.

The Lions had been due to play the Bulls last weekend but five positive Covid-19 cases in the Bulls squad saw that fixture called off.

Meanwhile, Jenkins said the Lions still have to make a final call on whether Alun Wyn Jones will re-join the tour.

The 35-year-old lock was due to complete a double training session day with Wales today before being medically cleared to link up with Gatland’s men in South Africa.

“I know he’s doing some stuff back home,” said Jenkins. “We’ll obviously see how that goes first.

“Nothing’s beyond Al, there’s no doubting that. He’s an incredible person and player, on and off the pitch. He’s incredibly diligent, works extremely hard.

“If he does get injured, I know how hard he works to get himself back as quickly as possible. Nothing surprises me with Al and if he is able to join us at some point in time, it would certainly boost for him and everybody involved with the squad, there’s no doubting that.”

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Murray Kinsella

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