The Lions squad have relocated to a resort in Hermanus, just over an hour’s drive from Cape Town
Conor Murray has revealed that the British and Irish Lions have tightened up their Covid-19 regulations – including only playing cards when they are outside and wearing visors when they do so – amid fears that another positive case in the squad could threaten Test places.
Murray, who is set to make his first start as tour captain when the Lions face South Africa A in Cape Town on Wednesday, has spoken for the first time about his frustration at having to self-isolate in his hotel room for almost three days after being identified as a ‘close contact’ of a positive test last week.
Murray was eventually released from his Johannesburg hotel room on Friday, after returning a second negative PCR test, and played a cameo role in the 71-41 victory over the Sharks at Lofus Versfeld on Saturday.
As the Lions squad relocated to a resort in Hermanus, just over an hour’s drive from Cape Town, Murray said the players were now being extra cautious because of the fears that another positive test in the squad could lead to up to 10 days’ isolation.
Warren Gatland, the Lions head coach, said the squad were attempting to reduce the risk by keeping all off-field meetings to fewer than 15 minutes – the limit to what is deemed as a ‘close contact’ – including card games.
“We are making sure meetings are 15 minutes or less and when we came back from training, that is where some people were captured as we were on the bus for longer than 15 minutes,” said Gatland.
“Some guys initially were playing cards and entertaining themselves and that was 15 minutes or longer – so that’s how that happened.
“We had to make some quick decisions. A couple of people felt they weren’t close contacts, but we had to go with what the recommendations were from the medical team and make sure we didn’t take any risks.”
Murray, who said he had been identified as a close contact because of his location on the team bus, said the players were happy to make the extra sacrifice given the proximity to the Test matches. The first Test against the Springboks is on July 24.
“There’s been a tightening up of the Covid protocols, but we have been really good so far,” said Murray, who was appointed as tour captain after Alun Wyn Jones sustained a dislocated shoulder in the warm-up match against Japan.
“There is so much going on and people have been adhering to the social distancing and masks – I’ve not worn a mask as much as I have done on this tour.
“With the card thing, they will probably move it outside and there has been talk of visors coming up and things like that.
“I don’t think anyone will put themselves in the risk of being close contacts. We could have just got away with it at this stage of the tour, but any later, from now on in – if you get caught as a close contact or pick up Covid it is just not ideal and you are putting yourself under pressure for the big games. I think it has been a wake-up call. We have been really good so far, but I think those card games will probably be outside and quick.”
Conor Murray played a cameo role in the 71-41 victory over the Sharks at Lofus Versfeld on Saturday
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
The Ireland scrum-half admitted it had been agonising to have been locked away from the rest of the squad as leader but spent the time reading books, including The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and phoning almost everyone in his contact book.
He also used the time to reflect on his appointment as captain and has been preparing his speech, if, as expected, he is announced in the starting XV when Gatland names his team on Monday.
“It would be a massive moment, a really proud moment,” Murray added. “It’s a huge honour for me and my family.
“We need to review the games and see what we are doing well and what we need to improve on,” Murray added. “We also won’t take anything for granted because of the situation we are in at the moment.
“We are very privileged to do what we are able to do. To be on a Lions tour and play in a Lions jersey – you try and make the most of it every time you get a chance because all going well, everything goes to plan and we get through this Test series and play every game – but there is always that risk which we are fully aware of.
“There is extra impetus because of the pandemic which creates a little bit of uncertainty. I’m sure it will be well-thought out depending on how our training week goes and things like that. The lads that have done it so far have hit the nail on the head and I am just hoping to do the same.”