Lions rule out UK option and insist tour continues in South Africa
Lions managing director Ben Calveley has insisted they remain committed to playing their Test series versus the Springboks in South Africa and have no inclination to jump on a flight back to the UK where sports events are currently able to take place in front of fans. Both Lions matches so far in South Africa have taken place behind closed doors and with Covid having breached the bio-secure bubble of both Warren Gatland’s squad and the Springboks, the tour has descended into chaos.
With the Bulls unable to fulfil next Saturday’s fixture, the Lions have arranged to play the Sharks a second time provided most of the players who are currently self-isolating become available for selection. Nine of their 37 players are currently unavailable – one who tested positive on Wednesday and then negative on Thursday, and eight close contacts – and there are no plans at the moment to ask other players from home to join the Lions squad with the countdown on towards the Test series versus the Springboks.
“It’s certainly not as simple as hopping on a flight and playing the series out on British soil,” insisted Calveley when asked about the validity of the tour continuing in South Africa. “We are here taking things one step at a time – we will deal with the challenges as they arise.
“We make decisions one day at a time so the focus today [Thursday] has been dealing with the rearranged Sharks fixture for the weekend. We then get on a plane on Sunday and travel down to Cape Town where we have more fixtures and there are no plans for us to do anything different to that.
“The plan is we move down there on Sunday, we then have three matches in Cape Town. The current intention is that we play those three matches in Cape Town. What happens after that we are currently in discussion with the South African rugby union so at the moment we haven’t deviated from the currently agreed schedule but we are contingency planning all the time.
Brighter outlook for the Lions on Thursday but there are hoops still to be jumped through before Warren Gatland is in a position to be able to name a team for Saturday#LionsRugbyhttps://t.co/WrtbagXGM0
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 8, 2021
“I’m confident that as long as we all exhibit the right behaviours in our respective camps, which we are, then we give it the absolute best possible chance of going right the way through to the end of that third Test… I don’t think I would set an arbitrary benchmark that would put things in serious doubt. The approach that we take is to make sure we abide by the protocols that have been designed by experts in this area, make sure we exhibit all of the right behaviours as we are at the moment. Everybody is socially distancing, everybody is wearing masks, everybody is focusing on hand hygiene, meetings taking place in well-ventilated areas.
“The protocols are working at the moment because they are identifying people that have sadly contracted the virus. We are isolating them from the rest of the population and then after a period of time, they can be reintegrated once they have got through their infectious period. We are doing everything we can to make sure the matches can go ahead.
“We have constant dialogue with the players and the staff to make sure everyone is aware of what is going on and if anyone had any doubts or issues they wanted to raise they would be able to come to me or any part of the management team at any point. That dialogue is constant.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 7, 2021
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now