The Lions are put through their paces in South Africa

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

The British & Irish Lions’ warm-up match against the Vodacom Bulls on Saturday is in major doubt after the South African provincial team returned several positive Covid cases.

A postponement of what should be a showpiece match against the Currie Cup champions would act as a hammer blow to the Lions’ preparations and would cast further doubt on whether the Test series against South Africa will go ahead. 

The Springboks themselves are waiting to find out whether their own match against Georgia on Friday night will go ahead after Lood de Jager, the second row, tested positive for Covid-19 that forced the entire squad into self-isolation. 

Both the Bulls and the Springboks’ outbreaks will be addressed by the Medical Advisory Committee, which should announce its findings this afternoon. The MAC is made up of independent virologists as well as medical representatives from both the Lions and South Africa. Both Ben Calveley and Jurie Roux, the chief executives of the Lions and Springboks, also sit on the panel. 

It is clear that the future of the tour has reached a critical stage. With the Springboks now having suffered two Covid-19 outbreaks in the space of eight days, previous bullish expressions of confidence that the Test series will go ahead now seem misplaced. The Lions have four warm-up matches remaining, including Wednesday night’s match against the Cell C Sharks. In such a truncated tour, they can barely afford to lose one match, let alone two. 

The hope is that when the tour switches from Johannesburg, which is the epicentre of South Africa’s third wave, to Cape Town on Sunday that the situation can be brought under control. However, cases are on the rise in the Western Cape and they may just swapping one Covid hotspot for another.

What is it?

The third match of the British & Irish Lions tour in South Africa against Super Rugby side Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, after it was confirmed the tour will go ahead.

It is the third of five warm-up games in South Africa before the three-Test series against the Springboks and has extra importance for head coach Warren Gatland given that the SA tour has been shortened by two games from the one in New Zealand in 2017.

When is it?

Saturday, July 10.

What time is kick-off?

5pm.

What TV channel is it on?

Live coverage is on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Rugby.

It has also been announced that highlights of all three Tests against South Africa will be on Channel 4, while All4 will show highlights of ALL the Lions Tour matches.

Lions Tour 2021 full fixtures

Here’s the latest schedule, all BST:

  • Saturday, June 26: Lions 28 Japan 10
  • Saturday, July 3: Lions 56 Sigma Lions 14
  • Wednesday, July 7 v Sharks... Johannesburg… Sky Sports… KO 6pm
  • Saturday, July 10 v Bulls… Pretoria… Sky Sports… KO 5pm
  • Wednesday, July 14 v South Africa ‘A’… Cape Town… Sky Sports… KO 7pm
  • Saturday, July 17 v Stormers… Cape Town… Sky Sports… KO 5pm
  • Saturday, July 24 (1st Test) v South Africa… Cape Town… Sky Sports… KO 5pm
  • Saturday, July 31 (2nd Test) v South Africa… Johannesburg… Sky Sports… KO 5pm
  • Saturday, August 7 (3rd Test) v South Africa… Johannesburg… Sky Sports… KO 5pm

What is the latest squad/team news?

British and Irish Lions squad

True to his word, Warren Gatland has given every player in the Lions touring party a chance to state their case for a Test berth in the first three warm-up matches.

Ten players start against the Cell C Sharks on Wednesday for the first time on this tour with seven new faces in the pack alone. 

Tom Curry forms part of a delicious-looking back row combination with Josh Navidi and Sam Simmonds. A former World Player of the Year nominee, he would have been pencilled into many Test teams. Even in England’s abysmal Six Nations campaign, his standards never dipped below exceptional.

But now Hamish Watson backs up winning the Six Nations player of the tournament award with a man of the match performance against the Sigma Lions. Any credit in the bank that Curry has accumulated has run dry. He will need to summon his best performance of the season – which is saying something – to keep in the running for the starting openside berth.

Many eyes will also be on Simmonds. Overlooked by England head coach Eddie Jones, Simmonds has admitted he needs to vindicate the faith shown by Gatland based on his sparkling club form for Exeter Chiefs. His explosive running game looks a perfect match for the hard track at Ellis Park.

Those watching through an English prism will also be fascinated by Elliot Daly’s selection at outside centre. Perhaps a surprise inclusion in the squad after a wretched Six Nations, Gatland nonetheless recognised that the talent was there, it was just being wasted at full back. While his focus is entirely upon the Lions, you can’t help feel that Gatland will derive pleasure from Jones’ discomfort if Simmonds and Daly tear it up on Wednesday night.

Why not put yourself in Gatland’s shoes and pick your Lions 23 with our team builder below…

British & Irish Lions Tour 2021: Pick your Lions team to face Bulls

Who will referee the match?

  • Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
  • Assistant referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
  • Assistant referee: AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
  • TMO: Stuart Berry (South Africa)

What have we said about the 2021 Lions tour?

  • The Springboks who will face the Lions: Player-by-player guide to 46-man squad
  • What is it really like to play against Owen Farrell – and is he ready for the Lions tour?
  • Gavin Mairs: Kyle Sinckler can put selection sadness aside to become a Lions star
  • Charlie Morgan: How referees selected by World Rugby will influence Test series
  • Brian Moore in conversation with Alex Corbisiero: ‘Big personalities parked their egos’
  • Brian Moore in conversation with John Smit: ‘Lions is more special than a World Cup’
  • Brian Moore in conversation with Sir Ian McGeechan: ‘Lions must match Boks physicality’
  • British and Lions tour set to go ahead without any supporters in South Africa
  • Mick Cleary: Logic suggests Lions will chew up undercooked Boks – but don’t bet on it
  • Lions teams to take on South Africa: Our writers pick their XVs to tackle the Boks
  • Will Greenwood’s player-by-player guide to the 2021 Lions squad
  • Warrenball 2.0? What Warren Gatland’s Lions squad tells us about how he wants to play

How previous Lions squads have looked 

Lions squads

What are the odds?

  • Betting on the match? Get the latest offers and free bets here

What’s our prediction?

Two games into the tour, Gatland should now have a fair idea about who is in his Test side and who are his dirt-trackers so expect the Lions to be close to full-strength for this encounter with the Bulls.
Predicted score: Lions 42 Bulls 17