Second and third Lions Tests set to be moved to Cape Town

Switch from Joburg to a sea level venue could help tourists against Springboks

Newlands could host the final two Lions Test matches. Photograph: Shaun Roy/Gallo

Newlands could host the final two Lions Test matches. Photograph: Shaun Roy/Gallo

 

British & Irish Lions v Sharks, Saturday July 10th, Loftus Versfeld Stadium (kick-off 5pm, Sky Sports).

These things are relative, particularly on this tour, but Friday amounted to a good news day for the British & Irish Lions. All their players have tested negative for Covid-19 and with only one player in isolation Warren Gatland was able to name a much changed team for the rearranged second meeting with the Sharks on Saturday.

What’s more, the Lions head coach also expressed his belief that not only might next week’s scheduled games in Cape Town against the Springboks’ ‘A’ team on Wednesday and the Stormers on Saturday be switched around to ensure they go ahead, but that the second and third Tests will be moved from Johannesburg to Cape Town as well.

“I’m not 100 per cent sure, but I’m pretty sure they’ll be played in Cape Town. That hasn’t been 100 per cent confirmed. That’s my understanding at the moment, but until they give us 100 per cent confirmation we just have to wait and see. I think they’re definitely going to be in Cape Town.”

Moving the entire three-match Test series from altitude to sea level, and were it to be completed, would be a significant boost to the Lions’ chances of emerging triumphant from this troubled tour.

“The way we’ve been working and training, if we play the three Tests at sea level it’s a real positive for us.”

While there has been no news from the Springboks camp since Tuesday, the covid cases in their squad which forced the cancellation of their second Test against Georgia have also placed into doubt the South African As being able to field a side next Wednesday.

Although again said he wasn’t entirely sure, he said of next Wednesday’s game: “It will either be the Springboks or the Stormers. They might switch those games around. That hasn’t been confirmed. Hopefully in the next 24 hours we’ll know which way those games go.”

The head coach admitted that the disruptions in the build-up to Wednesday’s game had been “hectic”, adding: “It’s a little bit unusual when you’re naming your team on the bus as you’re going to the ground and getting the results half an hour before kick-off.

“We’ve got a staff member who tested positive and some close contacts. Everyone else was tested today and everything came back negative so we’re really pleased with that.

“At the moment, we’ve got one player who is a close contact and four staff members.”

Warren Gatland has just one player unavilable due to isolation for Saturday’s game against the Sharks. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Warren Gatland has just one player unavilable due to isolation for Saturday’s game against the Sharks. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Gatland’s relief over this turn of events was palpable.

“It was fantastic, the case that we had we were very unsure where that came from.

“Everyone has been very vigilant in terms of wearing masks, social distancing, trying to stay away and travel on the bus and things - they’ve been very careful to make sure we didn’t have any cases, so that very weak positive test that’s come back negative - possibly a false positive. We’ve got one case, hopefully the close contacts will be out of isolation soon.

“I can’t speak more highly of the way everyone has conducted themselves. The medical team have been absolutely outstanding and the strength and conditioning team, they moved into top gear on Wednesday afternoon, doing deliveries around to all the players - bags, pre-match meal, making sure everyone was ready and if people needed ice or bath salts or whatever, they were here for them.

“They worked incredibly hard and took a lot of pressure off the coaches in terms of preparing the team.”

There was also positive news regarding Robbie Henshaw, who had been nursing a slight hamstring twinge.

“Robbie thinks he’s ready to go now, so he’s not too far away. Whether that’s next Wednesday he gets a run or the next weekend, but he’s up and running and hopefully he’ll start doing more stuff over the weekend.

We’ll make a decision on Sunday whether that’s him being involved on Wednesday or next week.”

While the Lions have made 13 changes from the revamped side which won on Wednesday, the Sharks have made 11 alterations to their staritng XV.

The four survivors are Werner Kok, Thaakir Abrahams, Jaden Hendrikse and captain Phepsi Buthelezi.

Ntuthuko Mchunu, Kerron van Vuuren and Wiehahn Herbst will pack down as the all-new frontrow, with Le Roux Roets and Reniel Hugo forming the secondrow. Flanks Dylan Richardson and Mpilo Gumede make up the seven changes to the pack, with Buthelezi retained at the base of the scrum.

The vastly experienced Cronje comes in at outhalf with Murray Koster and Kok making up the centre pairing.

The final two changes see Marnus Potgieter named on the wing and Anthony Volmink taking over at fullback.

Everitt has named an extended bench, which will be cut before the game, an option which Gatland declined to take up, instead gong with a 6-2 split as several of his backs have played plenty of minutes already.

Sharks: Anthony Volmink; Marnus Potgieter, Werner Kok, Marray Koster, Thaakir Abrahams; Lionel Cronje, Jaden Hendrikse; Ntuthuko Mchunu, Kerron van Vuuren, Wiehahn Herbst, Le Roux Roets, Reniel Hugo, Reniel Hugo, Dylan Richardson, Mpilo Gumede, Phepsi Buthelezi (capt). Replacements: Dan Jooste, MJ Majola, Khutha Mchunu, Thembelani Bholi, Jeandre Labuschagne, Cameron Wright, Boeta Chamberlain, Jeremy Ward, Lourens Adriaanse, Rynhardt Jonker, Curwin Bosch.

Lions: Liam Williams; Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Chris Harris, Duhan van der Merwe; Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Rory Sutherland, Jamie George (capt), Tadhg Furlong; Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill; Tadhg Beirne, Hamish Watson, Jack Conan. Replacements: Ken Owens, Wyn Jones, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, Sam Simmonds, Tom Curry, Conor Murray, Finn Russell.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).

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