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Springboks back training after a nervous 23-hour in-room isolation

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

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South Africa’s preparations for their remaining Rugby Championship fixtures have already suffered a setback, Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber confirming that a single false-positive test for Covid-19 forced his entire squad along with Argentina to stay isolated in their hotel bedrooms for 23 hours and forcing them to cancel their planned Monday training session.  


Having played each other twice in the Championship in recent weeks in Port Elizabeth, the Springboks and the Pumas shared a charter flight to Australia from Cape Town last Thursday but their plans to hit the ground running at the start of this week came unstuck when the results of PCR tests taken on Saturday morning highlighted an issue with one South African player.   

With Argentina sharing the same Queensland hotel facility with the Springboks, it meant that both squads were confined to their rooms until follow-up testing cleared up the issue to allow both countries to resume their Rugby Championship preparations on Tuesday. 

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The latest episode in The Season, the documentary series on Brisbane Boys College
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The latest episode in The Season, the documentary series on Brisbane Boys College

Speaking at a virtually held media conference, Nienaber explained the drama that had unfolded and gave an insight into how restrictive life in quarantine is ahead of South Africa’s next Rugby Championship match, the September 12 game on the Gold Coast versus Australia.

“We arrived here on Friday evening at five o’clock Australian time and then we had our PCR test done the next morning on Saturday – it was about nine o’clock,” explained Nienaber. “The result only came back on Sunday evening and there was a potential positive case so the whole squad had to go into isolation and Argentina. 

“We were isolated in our rooms for Sunday evening, starting at eight o’clock when the results came out until last night [Monday] just before seven o’clock until that person was retested and blood tests, PCR and antigen tests were done and it was a false positive. With Covid, you can sometimes produce false positives after you have had it. I have spoken to a medical person the other day and if you had Covid you can still produce a positive PCR test up to 90 days after infection. 


“It is something that we have seen continuously in the British and Irish Lions series where it happened a few times, a PCR test came back seemingly positive. We were in isolation yesterday [Monday] so today’s rugby session was actually supposed to happen yesterday but due to the fact that we were all in isolation, we couldn’t leave the rooms. We had all our meals and everything in our rooms so we were in proper isolation until the test came back as a false positive and then the ruby programme could continue.”

It was ironic that as Nienaber was speaking, he was interrupted by an announcement on the hotel PA system that the laundry collection service has just started and that the Springboks had to stay in the main building and off the terrace for the next 20 minutes.

“There you get a bit of an idea what isolation is like,” quipped Nienaber, who went on to explain what it was like sharing their quarantine facility with the Pumas. “We are quarantined with Argentina in this awesome facility. We can walk around and be outside of our rooms but, for instance, we can’t go to the swimming pool. You can walk in the open air so you are not just confined to your room but there is no luxury like swimming pools recovery, we can’t go, and nobody is allowed to enter our red zone. Not even the hotel staff. 

“We clean our own rooms. Only Argentina players, management and staff and South African players, management and staff are allowed to be in the red zone. How we get our meals, there is what they call an orange zone where meals are prepared and put into a room and then they announce over the PA system the area is now open for the two teams and we go down and dish it up ourselves. 


“Meals are served as a collective but there are two eating rooms for each team where we can sit and eat. There is a gym on the premises which we share with Argentina and then there is one rugby field which we also share with Argentina. They have been phenomenal to be with in the red zone. Both sides are trying to make it work. 

“There is a lot of compromising from both sides and it’s an open and honest conversation in terms of when we want the gym. We had a programme set out between us and Argentina while we were still in Port Elizabeth and there are small little adjustments in the programme now that there is a third party (involved) in the hotel. That is pretty much how lockdown works.”

Nienaber reported that prop Thomas du Toit returned to South Africa on Tuesday due to a family bereavement while the Springboks will also be without lock RG Snyman, who was unable to make the trip to Australia due to personal reasons.


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