Lions tour mired in uncertainty as Covid causes postponement of Bulls game

The British and Irish Lions tour has been plunged into turmoil by the postponement of Saturday’s game due to Covid.

The loss of the match against Pretoria-based Bulls follows four opposition players and one member of management returning positive tests.

It leaves Warren Gatland with just three fixtures, starting tonight at Ellis Park against the Sharks, to shape a team to take on world champions South Africa.

Which is to assume the tour survives that long – and that looks increasingly unlikely after four Springboks succumbed to the virus yesterday.

Handre Pollard, Marvin Orie, Frans Steyn and Frans Malherbe joined six of the management, including head coach Jacques Nienaber, in testing positive.

South Africa fly-half Handre Pollard is among the Springbok Covid casualties

Friday’s Test between the Springboks and Georgia, who also reported four positive tests, is likely to be called off leaving the remainder of the Lions tour mired in uncertainty.

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

“The Springboks’ second Test against Georgia is now in serious doubt, but we will wait for the Medical Advisory Group to consider the data and we will make the final decision tomorrow.

Iain Henderson captains Lions tonight against Sharks
Iain Henderson captains Lions tonight against Sharks

“The priority is to maintain the integrity of the Test series and we will continue to focus on that.”

Lions bosses retain hope of rescheduling the Bulls game but unless they stick it between the first and second Test there is no free date.

All of which is a nightmare for Gatland and his best laid plans though last night Tom Curry put personal ambition to one side to support opponents who have seen their Lions dream lost to Covid.

“100 per cent I sympathise with them,” said Sale’s England star, who suffered the same fate last season when his club’s play-off tilt was curtailed by an outbreak of the virus.

“Everyone is talking about how big it is for the Lions but for the South African players, what is it, once every 12 years?

“Playing against the Lions is a huge occasion for them, so there’s massive understanding for them. It’s not people’s fault if they catch Covid.”

Defence coach Steve Tandy said the tourists would be ready for whatever contingency plan is put in place – even if that means alternative opponents being found for this weekend.

“Through Covid you learn that you need to adapt,” he said. “You can have the best laid plans, but things move really quickly and change.

“It’s about being prepared for whatever comes our way at whatever moment in time.”

Wales have confirmed Leigh Halfpenny will require surgery after sustaining knee ligament damage against Canada on his 100th Test appearance.

Sharks: Libbok; Kok, Ward, Louw, Abrahams; Bosch, Hendrikse; Mona, Mbatha, Mchunu, Van Heerden, Andrews, Venter, Bholi, Buthelezi (capt).

Replacements: Van Vuuren, Mchunu, Herbst, Van der Mescht, Hugo, Richardson, Williams,Volmink.

British and Irish Lions: Williams; Watson, Daly, Aki, Van der Merwe; Biggar, Davies; Vunipola, Cowan-Dickie, Fagerson, Henderson (capt), Beard, Navidi, Curry, Simmonds.

Replacements: Owens, Sutherland, Furlong, Beirne, Conan, Murray, Hogg, Harris.

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