VIDEO: Gatland adamant Test series will go ahead
REACTION: British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland ‘honestly’ believes the Test series against the world champion Springboks will go head.
Gatland made the statement at the end of a “surreal day” in which his team beat the Sharks 54-7 in their second match on tour.
The game, at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park, was in jeopardy and even the tour was in doubt.
The B&I Lions only heard hours before kick-off that their showdown with the Sharks will proceed.
It came after two a player and a staff member tested positive for COVID-10.
It resulted in 12 close contacts – eight players and four staff members – being placed in isolation at the team hotel.
Gatland was forced to make eight changes to the original matchday 23 he had announced on Monday.
Earlier on Wednesday SA Rugby confirmed that the planned second Test match between the Springboks and Georgia had been cancelled because of COVID-19 infections in both camps.
The match was scheduled to take place at Ellis Park on Friday.
However, a review by the Medical Advisory Group in Wednesday confirmed that the risk of further infection made it impossible to continue with the match.
The Springbok playing and management group returned 12 positive tests for COVID-19 this week, while Georgia had returned four.
This, along with the outbreak in the B&I Lions camp, had resulted in doubts over the viability of the tour.
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Just over an hour before the kick-off – the game was moved back from a 19.00 start to 20.00 – the B&I Lions confirmed the encounter with the Sharks would proceed.
“We did not get the results until half-past five and we had to make a few changes,” Gatland told a virtual post-match media briefing.
Those changes were to four of the named starters and four of the substitutes.
The bench was made up of seven forwards and only one back.
Despite the surge of COVID cases in South Africa – which have already resulted in Friday’s Boks versus Georgia Test and Saturday’s Bulls versus B&I Lions match being called off – Gatland was adamant the three-match Test series would go ahead.
The first Test is scheduled for Cape Town for July 24 – followed by matches the second (July 31) and third (August 7) internationals back in Johannesburg.
“Absolutely,” the B&I Lions coach said, adding: “I honestly believe we will have a Test series.
“Our medics said beforehand the likelihood – when we are in South Africa – was we were going to get a case or two and it is just how we deal with it.
“The players have been incredibly vigilant.
“South Africa is probably in a worse situation.
“For us, we have got time in the next few weeks to hopefully get every one right so that we can have a good Test series and make sure we are safe and secure in our bubbles.”
Gatland said they can’t pinpoint the source of the outbreak.
“We’re not sure where we picked these cases up from, whether it was through hotel staff or some people passing by at the matches or whatever.
“I am not 100 percent sure, but as far as we are concerned we are preparing and looking forward to a Test series.
“We have been incredibly vigilant in terms of what we do as a group.
“We have been in this bubble for the last four weeks so we are not sure where it has come from.
“The challenging thing was when we first came into the hotel there was a number of the hotel staff that tested positive and had to be removed so whether it has come from that or not but I know all our tests had been negative up until today [Wednesday].
“We will just address it as it goes. We know there were going to be certain challenges but we are hopeful we can get things back on track and this Test series can go ahead.”
The Lions coach said there would be a discussion with the medical team on Thursday.
He said he understood that the player who tested positive had “a very weak positive”.
“He will be tested again tomorrow and maybe he will be clear which means the close contacts will be okay.”