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Lions series victory hopes increase with latest venue change update

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Warren Gatland believes the Lions will play their entire three-game Test series versus the Springboks at sea level in Cape Town rather than the tour returning to Johannesburg and having the second and third Tests played at altitude which would favour the South Africans. The Lions have spoken about the effects that playing at altitude in the last week have on their lungs and it was set to be an important factor if the tour was to return as planned to Johannesburg. 

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However, with the Lions and the Springboks each having had their issues with Covid this week in the more contagious Gauteng region, Gatland expects the Lions to spend the remainder of their tour in Cape Town once they fly there on Sunday following Saturday’s rematch with the Sharks. “I’m not 100 per cent sure but I’m pretty sure that they will be played in Cape Town,” he said about Test matches two and three which are due to be played in Johannesburg on July 31 and August 7.

“That hasn’t been 100 per cent confirmed yet. That is my understanding at the moment and until they give us 100 per cent confirmation we just have to wait and see, but I think they are definitely going to be in Cape Town. Playing the three Tests at sea level is a real positive for us.”

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That might not be the only changes to the existing schedule either. There has been no update since Tuesday from the badly hit Springboks camp and Gatland confirmed there were talks that next Wednesday’s Lions match could be against the Stormers, with the planned clash versus South Africa A pushed back to the following Saturday so that the health situation of Jacques Nienaber and his squad has more time to come right.

“No, we are not 100 per cent. It will either be the Springboks or the Stormers so they might switch those games around. That hasn’t been confirmed. Hopefully, in the 24 hours we will know which way those games go.”

In the meantime, the Lions will face the Sharks this Saturday for the second time in four days after the latest round of their testing came back negative, freeing up the unnamed player who tested positive and his contacts for a selection that shows 13 changes to the starting side from the team that won 54-7 on Wednesday. The one curiosity is that the status of the contacts affected by the management member who tested positive on Wednesday has now changed. The Lions said in a statement that day that the staff member’s close contacts were two players and two staff, a description reiterated on Thursday by managing director Ben Calveley. 

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However, when Saturday’s team was announced on Friday, this had changed to one player and three staff who were isolated along with the staff member that tested positive. “The player has been isolating in his room and has been coming down and having meals on the terrace on their own, the one player and three staff have been doing that,” explained Lions boss Gatland. 

“They have been able to get out of their rooms. They seem in good spirits at the moment. We will hopefully have everyone back on board on Wednesday which would be great… We had everyone else tested today [Friday] and everything came back negative. We’re really pleased with that.

“The case that we had, we are very unsure where that came from. But everyone is being very vigilant in terms of wearing masks and social distancing and trying to stay away and travel on the bus and things. We have been very careful in trying to make sure that we didn’t have any cases so that very weak positive test has come back negative in the last two days, they thought it was possibly a false positive. 

“But we have got one case and hopefully the close contacts will be out of isolation soon. Look, I can’t speak more highly of the way that everyone has conducted themselves. The medical team have been absolutely outstanding and the strength and conditioning team.

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“They moved into top gear on Wednesday afternoon doing deliveries around to all the players and bags and food and stuff, pre-match meal and making sure everyone was ready. If people needed ice or bath salts or whatever, they were there for them. They worked incredibly hard and took a lot of pressure off the coaches in helping them prepare the team and made it easy for the players.”

Robbie Henshaw and Stuart Hogg are the two players in the 37-strong squad who haven’t featured in either matchday 23 to face the Sharks. Henshaw pulled up with a minor hamstring strain last week while assistant Steve Tandy reported on Tuesday that Stuart Hogg was carrying a bit of a dead leg. He ultimately was one of the eight players who weren’t able to feature as originally planned versus the Sharks on Wednesday.  

“Robbie Henshaw was running today, which was good, and Stuart Hogg is fit as well,” said Gatland. “He [Henshaw] thinks he is ready to go now so he is not too far away, whether it is next Wednesday he gets a run or the next weekend. He is up and running and hopefully he will start doing more stuff over the weekend as well and we will make a decision on Sunday whether he will be back involved Wednesday or next week.”

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Lions series victory hopes increase with latest venue change update

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