Kolisi's involvement in the first Test must now be in doubt

Credit: AFP

World Cup winning captain Siya Kolisi is among six further Springbok players who have tested positive for Covid-19, threatening their involvement in the first Test agains the Lions on July 24. 

Fourteen South Africa players have now tested positive for Covid in the past two weeks while head coach Jacques Nienaber is also self-isolating. However, the Springboks wider party were allowed to resume training yesterday having spent the whole week in isolation in their hotel rooms. The British & Irish Lions’ matches against South Africa A and Stormers on Wednesday and Saturday also appear to be going ahead

The Lions have suffered significant disruption of their own with Gregor Townsend among four staff members and a player who had to stay in Johannesburg while the wider party flew to Cape Town. On Saturday, they beat the Sharks 71-31 for a second time in four days after the scheduled fixture against the Bulls was postponed. 

Yet their preparations have seemed serene compared to South Africa, who have suffered 26 positives cases including staff, forcing their match against Georgia on Friday to be cancelled. It means that the Springboks have played just one match, also against Georgia two weeks ago, since beating England in the 2019 World Cup final. 

They have also lost a whole week’s training. The outbreak began when Vincent Koch and wing S’bu Nkosi tested positive on June 28. Last Monday, lock Lood De Jager also returned a positive test followed by anther four Springboks the following day.

In the latest round of PCR tests, Siya Kolisi, Sale Shark flanker Dan du Preez, prop Ox Nché, wing Makazole Mapimpi and hookers Bongi Mbonambi and Scarra Ntubeni were picked up as positives. The South African government recommends all positive cases isolate for ten days meaning the likes of Kolisi would have missed two weeks of training leading into preparations for the first Test on June 24. 

There have been questions of the tightness of the Springboks’ biosecurity bubble with South African Rugby Union chief executive Jurie Roux reported to have “read the riot act” to the squad if the tour is cancelled. In Nienaber’s absence, director of rugby Rassie Erasmus will return to a hands on role on the training field. 

“We are delighted to be able to return to the field and resume our preparations for the Castle Lager Lions Series,” Nienaber, who remains in self isolation, said. “It has been a challenging week with the Test against Georgia cancelled and the entire squad self-isolating for a few days as a preventative measure, so the players cannot wait to get back on the park.

“The Test against Georgia was important for us with an eye on preparing to face the British & Irish Lions, but these are extraordinary times and we have to adapt as a team, and I have to commend the players and management for that.”

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If ‘chaos’ has been the buzzword of choice in the Lions camp last week, one can imagine what word the Springboks are using. In the Lions case, they believe their two positive cases were caused by an outbreak among staff in their Johannesburg hotel. They have since insisted their staff at their Cape Town hotel isolate five days prior to their arrival. 

Yet Gatland believes all the disruption, with the Lions only finding out they could play their fixture against the Sharks two hours before kick off on Wednesday, will help breed greater resilience for the Test series. 

“Nothing people throw at us will hopefully catch us by surprise,” Gatland said. “We’ll be ready for that. We’re well aware of the challenges of the Springboks and how tough they’ll be and the physicality they’ll bring.

“I thought we handled it in the week. I see it as a positive. If there’s anything wrong with us, that doesn’t upset us. We’re able to make decisions quickly and move on. If anything else happens on the tour that is chaotic as this week has been, that would probably surprise me.

“The mantra from Prav, the head of medical: there will be some chaos and we need to be able to adapt and change. And kind of that is what we were able to do on Wednesday. I’ve been involved in teams before where they’ve created certain scenarios where they’ve had vehicles break down and arrived at grounds late and done different things just to create the scenario where, if things do go wrong, you are able to not stress about it and cope with it.”