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'Our mantra the whole time has been chaos, adapt, change'

By Liam Heagney

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Warren Gatland appeared unflappable when he did a live TV interview shortly before the kick-off of Wednesday’s Lions tour match versus the Sharks in Johannesburg. An outbreak of Covid in the Lions camp on Wednesday resulted in a round of retesting and eight changes being made to the original matchday 23 chosen on Monday for the midweek match.

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It had been initially reported on Wednesday that a member of management who had tested positive following a lateral flow test for the virus had been isolated along with four close contacts – two players and two other members of staff. Following the subsequent PCR testing of the squad, it then emerged that a player had now also tested positive. 

“The two individuals had a total of twelve close contacts – eight players and four staff members – all of whom have been placed into isolation at the team hotel,” read the Lions statement accompanying the multiple team changes. Ali Price and Owen Farrell replaced Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar at half-back, Josh Adams took over at full-back for Liam Williams and Louis Rees-Zammit came onto the wing in place of Anthony Watson.

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Among the replacements, Maro Itoje, Finn Russell, Hamish Watson and Taulupe Faletau were included at the expense of Tadhg Beirne, tour skipper Conor Murray, Stuart Hogg and Chris Harris which left Gatland with a 7/1 forwards/backs split that he didn’t sound overly concerned about when speaking to Sky Sports.  

“We’ll have to wait and see,” said Gatland when asked about having Russell as his only replacement Lions back. “I have spoken to Hamish Watson and Taulupe Faletau that they have just got to be ready to go on. It’s the same forward pack just with Maro Itoje coming in (on the bench) and we’re just a little light in the backline. Finn is going to cover a few positions and if someone else has to step up, I’m sure they can do a job for us.”

As for his calm composure regarding the Covid situation that had put the Lions versus Sharks game in doubt, he added: “I did tell them a story: In 2013 when we went to Hong Kong and the analysts went ahead and told us they had got to the stadium in 20 minutes, I put the team meeting back an hour not realising it was rush hour and it took us an hour and a half to get to the stadium so we arrived incredibly late but the boys were brilliant. 

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“A bit of panic on the bus and Andy Irvine (Lions chairman on that tour) said to me, ‘Gats, why are you so relaxed?’ I said, ‘I can’t stress about it because I can’t change anything’. Our mantra the whole time has been chaos, adapt, change and so we have had to do that today and I am really excited about tonight. The boys are pumped up, we have got three new caps so that is absolutely brilliant and we are going to go out there and give a brilliant account of ourselves.”

Asked if there could be further Covid consequences this week for the Lions tour, Gatland added: “We’ll see what happens. We had a couple of positives today in terms of a staff member and a player and the close contacts. We’ll see what happens. I’ll take advice from the medical team and see how we go forward from here.” 

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'Our mantra the whole time has been chaos, adapt, change'

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