Lions' South African rugby tour hit by Covid cases

The threat of the British and Irish Lions’ rugby tour of South Africa being derailed by the pandemic has shifted menacingly closer, as today’s second game in the series was put under pressure by Covid test results, while their scheduled match this weekend has been called off.

By Ralph Mellon
Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 4:19 pm
Covid pressure has hit the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa.
Covid pressure has hit the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa.

Former Hawick players and current Scottish internationals Stuart Hogg – who captained the side last weekend – and Rory Sutherland are the only Borderers in the squad, while ex-Gala ace and Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is there as an assistant coach to boss Warren Gatland.

Both Hogg and Sutherland had already been benched for today’s game against the Cell C Sharks, as Gatland looks to give game-time to as many of his players as possible ahead of the scheduled test matches against South Africa later this month, and in August.

However, the British & Irish Lions confirmed earlier today that a member of its management team had tested positive for Covid-19, following a lateral flow test as part of the tour screening programme.

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The individual and four close contacts – including two players and two members of staff – were being isolated and assessed at the team hotel. All members of the touring party had since been PCR tested.

This evening’s game against the Cell C Sharks at Emirates Airline Park – already subject to a revised kick-off time to avoid a clash with the England v Denmark football semi-final in Euro 2020 – was still due to take place, provided the subsequent round of PCR testing returned negative results this afternoon. Should this be the case, the kick-off time will be adjusted to 8pm (SAST) / 7pm (BST).

"We have followed all necessary precautions since the start of the Tour, which included regular testing and rigorous Covid-19 counter measure planning and protocols," said Ben Calveley, managing director for the British & Irish Lions.

"Our priority is to ensure the health and safety of the entire touring party, which is why we quickly isolated the players and staff upon receiving the news of the positive result.

"Everyone has subsequently been lateral flow and PCR tested. The medical advisory group awaits the results of the PCR testing to make a decision on tonight’s game.

"The five individuals effected will be monitored closely during isolation and receive the best possible medical attention as we await the results of their PCR tests.”

Earlier, it was announced that the Lions’ series match against the Vodacom Bulls on Saturday has been postponed, with a view to rescheduling or to accommodate an alternative opponent, while the Springboks’ second Test against Georgia on Friday was also being reviewed.

Four Bulls players and one member of management returned positive tests which, in combination with their close contacts, made it impossible for them to field a team, according to series safety protocols.

Series regulations make provision for additional midweek matches to be added on agreement between the organizations.

Meanwhile four positive results among the Georgian team and four additional positive tests among South African players (Marvin Orie, Frans Steyn, Handre Pollard and Frans Malherbe) plus six among management, including head coach Jacques Nienaber, and one masseuse, have further complicated planning.

The latest medical data from the Springbok and Georgian teams was being assessed by the medical advisory group (MAG).

“These positive results are a setback and have underlined the danger of transmissibility of the delta variant,” said Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby.

“The Springboks’ second Test against Georgia is now in serious doubt but we will wait for the MAG to consider the data and we will make the final decision tomorrow. The priority is to maintain the integrity of the Test series and we will continue to focus on that.”

A further update will be issued on potential alternative opponents for the Lions and on the Springboks’ second Test against Georgia as soon as the positions are finalised.