View from South Africa: Covid crisis and Zuma trial overshadow Lions tour

Rugby writers unsure what to make of tourists after easy win over weak local side

The Lions played the Emirates Lions at an empty Ellis  Park on Saturday. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

The Lions played the Emirates Lions at an empty Ellis Park on Saturday. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

 

The British & Irish Lions’ impressive victory over the local Lions franchise on Saturday has received limited attention from the South African media, as politics and the Covid-19 pandemic continue to overshadow the early stages of the tour.

Among rugby writers who did run the rule over the performance of the northern hemisphere tourists, who won easily against the Johannesburg-based outfit, there was little surprise at the 56-14 scoreline.

The Lions’ local namesake is currently seen as the weakest of the rugby teams the tourists will play against during the five warm-up games that have been scheduled before the first Test in Cape Town takes place on July 24th.

Writing for the online Daily Maverick media outlet, sports journalist Craig Ray mused about what the Springboks’ and the British & Irish Lions’ respective management teams might have learned from watching each other play over the weekend.

The B&I Lions will be all too pleased with their clinical performance, but even more so to have come through the game unscathed in terms of injuries

He described the British & Irish Lions’ victory as “clinical” but noted it was “a very weak local Lions” that played at Ellis Park on Saturday.

“The tourists’ lineout purred and they defended well the few times they were asked to repel continual attacks on their line,” he wrote in his rugby column.

Nothing new

As for what the Lions’ coach Warren Gatland might have garnered from watching the Springboks comprehensively outplay Georgia at the same venue the night before?

Ray maintained the Boks revealed nothing new from their previous outing 20 months ago when they famously beat England 32-12 in Yokohama to win the Webb Ellis Cup.

“As then, in Pretoria on Friday the forwards dominated the set pieces, the bench came on and continued to grind Georgia down and the defence was watertight,” he wrote.

Indeed, Gavin Rich of the Business Day newspaper insisted Gatland should be concerned by the ease at which his team won their first game as a lack of stiff opposition before the first Test could leave the Lions unprepared for the ferocity of the Springbok assault.

“Gatland was assistant coach the last time the Lions were here in 2009 and he agrees the Lions were caught out then because of the easy games they played in the build-up. The Boks effectively won that series in the first half of the opening Test in Durban,” he recalled.

SA Rugby Magazine took a slightly different view, saying the British & Irish Lions victory had laid down an early marker that should put their upcoming opponents on high alert. But it also maintained the Johannesburg side had made it easy for them by “falling off tackles and poor execution”.

“For their part, the B&I Lions will be all too pleased with their clinical performance, but even more so to have come through the game unscathed in terms of injuries,” the online publication stated.

However, for the most part, South Africa’s media has focused on the worsening third wave of Covid-19 spreading rapidly across the nation, than the opening match of the Lions tour.

South Africa’s fourth post-apartheid president, who resides in the eastern province, refused to begin his prison term by the Sunday deadline set by the apex court

There had been speculation that all the remaining games might be moved to the Western Cape province, as Gauteng, where the tourists are currently based, is currently the epicentre of the third wave of the virus in the country.

Yet any such move might be fruitless when it comes to reducing players’ exposure to the highly infectious disease, if health officials’ latest predictions turn out to be accurate.

On Monday they said they expect the Western Cape, which has been recording the second-highest number of daily infections in the country after Gauteng, to hit its infection peak in the next few weeks.

Political crisis

The only other viable option would be to play the games in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal’s capital, but the province has become the centre of a major political crisis in recent days created by former president Jacob Zuma.

Former president Jacob Zuma addresses his supporters at his home in Nkandla on Sunday. Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed/AP Photo
Former president Jacob Zuma addresses his supporters at his home in Nkandla on Sunday. Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed/AP Photo

Since the constitutional court sentenced him to jail last Tuesday for contempt of court for refusing its order to give evidence at a corruption inquiry, he has thrown the country into turmoil.

Over the weekend South Africa’s fourth post-apartheid president, who resides in the eastern province, refused to begin his prison term by the Sunday deadline set by the apex court.

There are now fears the situation may lead to violence between his provincial supporters - who say they will not allow him to be incarcerated - and the police.

The latter will be tasked with enforcing the law if a last-minute legal bid by Zuma to have the sentence overturned on review fails.

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