VIDEO: B&I Lions to settle in Cape Town?
NEWS: The British and Irish Lions tour seems destined for a dramatic shift to Cape Town.
B&I Lions coach Warren Gatland revealed that Saturday’s outing against the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria will most likely be the last game in Gauteng.
The rest of the tour is set to be played at the purpose-built Cape Town Stadium.
The tourists were always going to head to Cape Town on Sunday, but were scheduled to play only three games in the Mother City.
They were set to return to Johannesburg and play the second and third Tests at Soweto’s 90.000-seater Soccer City.
However, Gatland said the plan is to play the remaining games in Cape Town – with the possibility of a reshuffle of fixtures.
The original roster – which has now been thrown out – had South Africa A up next Wednesday, July 14, in Cape Town – followed by the Stormers (July 17) and the first Test (July 24).
The circus would then have returned to Gauteng.
However, this week’s COVID-10 outbreak in the Springbok, B& Lions and Bulls camps resulted in a rethink.
It is now likely the Stormers will be the opponents next Wednesday, while the SA A game will be player next Saturday – also most likely being used as a practice run for the Boks shadow team, after the cancellation of their second Test against Georgia.
The second and third Test looks set to also be played at the Cape Town Stadium, built for the 2010 soccer World Cup.
Gatland told a virtual media briefing on Friday that he expects the rest of the tour to be played out at the coast – meaning the Boks will lose their advantage of playing a altitude.
“I’m not 100 percent sure, but I’m pretty sure they will be played in Cape Town,” the B&I Lions coach said, when asked about the possibility of returning to Gauteng for the last leg of the tour.
“That hasn’t been 100 percent confirmed.
“[However,] that is my understanding at the moment.
“Until they give us a 100 percent confirmation, we will have to wait and see.”
South African Rugby officials have been mum on the subject.
Gatland admitted the move will benefit his team.
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“The way we’ve been working and training, playing three Tests at sea level is a real positive for us.”
Gatland added that he hoped the Lions would soon be back to full strength, following the mid-week COVID scare in their own camp.
Three staff members and one player remain in isolation at the team hotel, after a staff member tested positive.
However, the player who originally tested a “weak positive” has been cleared along with his close contacts.
Gatland said he hoped the full squad would be together again by this coming Wednesday.
* Turning to Saturday’s game at Loftus Versfeld, Gatland confirmed they had agreed to allow the Sharks to name a bench of 11 replacements, although they are still only allowed to use eight.
“We were given the option of naming 11 on the bench as well, but we have rejected that,” he said, adding: “We have stuck with the [regulation] eight.”
He described the past week’s events as “slightly turbulent”, but said they will keep rolling with the punches.
“In many ways, the challenges we’ve faced this week have strengthened our resolve to do everything we can to overcome the challenges created by COVID.
“The feeling in the camp on Wednesday was just to give it a crack.
“I was really proud by how everyone reacted, particularly the matchday squad who would have never prepared for a game like that before.
“Saturday is another opportunity to see how the boys go and for us as coaches to try out a few more combinations ahead of the Test series.”