'Absolutely, I honestly believe we will have a Test series'
Lions boss Warren Gatland has insisted his squad can still look ahead with confidence to having their planned Test series versus the Springboks following an extraordinary Wednesday in South Africa where a Covid outbreak in their camp was confirmed shortly after it was decided to cancel this Friday’s Boks versus Georgia game due to the virus.
The Lions had learned on Tuesday that their match next weekend versus the Bulls had been postponed due to an outbreak amongst Jake White’s squad and this development was followed on Wednesday by that night’s game against the Sharks getting jeopardised by events within Gatland’s own squad.
Two individuals – a player and a staff member – tested positive and a total of twelve close contacts – eight players and four staff members – were identified and placed into isolation at the team hotel, forcing Gatland to make eight changes to the original matchday 23 he had announced on Monday.
The Lions went on to comfortably win the match 54-7, Duhan van der Merwe and Josh Adams each scoring a hat-trick, and while they finished with just 13 players after van der Merwe and Louis Rees-Zammit, another try-scorer, were taken off due to tightened hamstrings, the main thrust of Gatland’s post-match media briefing was Covid, its impact and its possible ramifications for the rest of the tour.
July 24 is the date when the Lions are set to begin their three-Test series versus the Springboks and Gatland was very optimistic it will still go ahead despite a day of drama for both squads 17 days before they are due to clash in Cape Town in their opening Test.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 7, 2021
“Absolutely. I honestly believe we will have a Test series. Our medics said beforehand the likelihood when we are in South Africa was we were going to get a case or two and it is just how we deal with it. The players have been incredibly vigilant. South Africa are probably in a worse situation. For us, we have got time in the next few weeks to hopefully get everyone right so that we can have a good Test series and make sure we are safe and secure in our bubbles.
“That is definitely what we are trying to do. We’re not sure where we picked these cases up from, whether it was through hotel staff or some people passing by at the matches or whatever. I am not 10o per cent sure but as far as we are concerned we are preparing and looking forward to a Test series.
“We have been incredibly vigilant in terms of what we do as a group. We have been in this bubble for the last four weeks so we are not sure where it has come from. The challenging thing was when we first came into the hotel there was a number of the hotel staff that tested positive and had to be removed so whether it has come from that or not but I know all our tests had been negative up until today [Wednesday]. We will just address it as it goes. We know there were going to be certain challenges but we are hopeful we can get things back on track and this Test series can go ahead.”
There is still speculation that the Lions might yet have a match to play this Saturday if a new opponent is found to replace the Bulls. “Possibly. I need to talk to the medical team and get a report on that and talk tomorrow [Thursday] if there is a game for the weekend. My understanding is that one of the positives was a very, very weak positive and if he is retested tomorrow and it is negative his close contacts should be okay. We probably need to wait for that.”
Asked to shed light on how Wednesday had unfolded for the Lions, Gatland added: “Quite surreal. It’s been a real challenge considering the staff and players were in our rooms until six o’clock this evening. We didn’t get the results back until half-past five and then had to make a few changes but incredibly proud of the performance and the players, how they adjusted and how the staff worked so hard today.
“I came away from here today thinking more than the result and the performance, I was really proud of the togetherness of the group and how much they wanted to go out there and perform and wear the jersey.
“My message to the players was let’s use this as a positive, let’s use whatever is thrown at us that we can deal with it, nothing is going to faze us and we were in a situation where we weren’t in control of things so we just had to go with the flow and adjust.
“We talk about potentially being in a situation of chaos and it’s then being able to adapt and then change. That is really what we did today and the players were absolutely outstanding in their approach, just how vocal they were in the changing room after and the way they supported each other on the pitch was tremendous.”
Regarding the Lions finishing the match two players short, Gatland continued: “We took Duhan van der Merwe off because his hamstrings were tightening up and when we were down to 14 men we were able to score, and then Louis Rees-Zammit’s hamstrings tightened up as well so we played the last few minutes with 13 men when the game was comfortably in the bag.
“They are not injuries, their hamstrings were tightening up, the game was won so we just precautionary took them off the field. There was no need to risk them. They had done a lot of running in the game. Duhan had scored three tries and Louis had got on the scoresheet as well. There was no point in risking those players who had given us everything they had really.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 7, 2021
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