Warren Gatland hopes the British and Irish Lions have seen off the worst of the chaos they might experience on their tour of South Africa after a turbulent week.

A case of COVID-19 in the Lions management has caused disruption, while the team were due to face the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday, but the opposition had to pull out due to coronavirus cases within their own squad.

A spate of infections in the South Africa squad saw the Springboks' planned match against Georgia called off, but the Lions at least got a game, with the Sharks agreeing to face the tourists for the second time in four days.

The Lions had delivered a 54-7 thumping in Wednesday's first game, played at Ellis Park, but a shift in venue to Loftus Versfeld and wholesale personnel changes on each team led to a very different outcome on Saturday.

A 71-31 win for the Lions resulted from a game that was tied at 26-26 at half-time, with a red card for the Sharks' Jaden Hendrikse early in the second half transforming the momentum.

Coach Gatland was asked whether it was proving to be the most chaotic week of his career, and he said: "It probably is.

"If anything else happens on the tour that's as chaotic as you say this week has been, that would probably surprise me."

He admitted, however, that it was still unclear who the Lions' next opponents would be, with a game against South Africa A currently scheduled for the coming Wednesday, and a clash with the Stormers set for Saturday.

"I think there's a good chance they'll switch the Stormers and South Africa A games around, but nothing's been confirmed yet," Gatland said. "We've just got to go with the flow and react to whatever's thrown at us."

Gatland is hoping Finn Russell can recover from an Achilles injury to play a part later in the tour, although he appears unlikely to play in any matches before the three-Test series against the world champion Springboks begins on July 24 in Cape Town.

The Scotland fly-half is out of Gatland's immediate plans and England newcomer Marcus Smith has been called in to provide cover.

 

Russell had an injection on Saturday, said Gatland, describing the injury as "not a strained Achilles but a slight little tear".

"It's going to keep him out for the next couple of weeks," Gatland said. "He's going to be in a boot for the next five days and when he comes out of that he'll have some more treatment.

"If he makes good progress, we'll assess him going forward. If he's not, then there's a possibility he may go home. It's a wait-and-see situation with him."

Gatland felt the Lions had been messy with some of their play in the first half against the Sharks, which saw them concede four tries.

He said: "I think we caused a few of our own problems with some of the turnovers and a couple of interceptions and a couple of poor passes that allowed them in the game to put us under pressure.

"We were just a bit edgy and a bit untidy, particularly in the first half, which allowed them to stay in the game. We just need to make sure we're a bit more accurate and tidier and I thought we did that a lot better in the second half."

The British and Irish Lions continued to pile on the points on their tour of South Africa with what proved to be an emphatic, albeit not entirely convincing, 71-31 win over the Sharks.

There was no shortage of entertainment at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, with the Sharks more than holding their own until Jaden Hendrikse got himself sent off.

Indeed, the Lions conceded four tries in the first half – as many as they had allowed in total in their three previous games combined this year.

Yet Hendrikse's dismissal proved the turning point, with the Lions' quality shining through, though Warren Gatland – who on Saturday called up England new boy Marcus Smith due to an injury for Finn Russell – will be expecting better in defence as the Springboks series approaches.

Chris Harris skipped over for his first Lions try early on, with Dan Biggar adding the extras, but the Sharks hit back in style.

Elliot Daly's mistake resulted in Anthony Volmink charging in down the left, before Thaakir Abrahams latched onto Lionel Cronje's grubber. With a game on their hands, the Lions responded in turn – captain Jamie George going over at the culmination of a rolling maul.

The scoring did not let up, with Duhan van der Merwe dragging the Lions level again after Hendrikse had crossed at the other end.

Another Lions mistake gifted Volmink a second try, yet the Sharks' defence was equally as vulnerable and Tadhg Beirne bundled through to once more level the scores..

A moment of madness from Hendrikse soon gave the Lions an advantage, though. The Sharks scrum-half elbowed Liam Williams in the head as the full-back was tackled into touch, and after checking with the TMO, referee Wayne Barnes brandished a red card.

The Lions set about making their numerical superiority count – Jack Conan driving in before Daly extended the lead, only for Werner Kok to pounce on Conor Murray's blocked kick. However, George and Beirne doubled their tallies either side of Anthony Watson taking the Lions above 50, with Tom Curry running in their 10th try.

Murray's yellow ensured both sides would finish with 14 men, though Watson had the final say with a brilliant 50-metre break.


Sharks hold their own until Hendrikse blunder

It really was a ludicrous decision from Hendrikse, who had looked sharp in the first half, to lunge in on Williams.

The Sharks – who were thrashed 54-7 in midweek but stepped up to play the Lions again after the Bulls pulled out – presented a real challenge for the Lions before the break, but Hendrikse's rashness ultimately all-but gifted the tourists victory.

Smith stunned by late call

Harlequins fly-half Smith scored 18 points as England hammered Canada at Twickenham on Saturday, though he had little time to celebrate ahead of catching a flight out to South Africa to join up with Gatland's squad.

"I can't believe it," Smith told Channel 4. "They called me into the tunnel 10 minutes ago and I don't believe it – I was shaking, I still can't believe it, it's amazing.

"We were meant to go to the football [England v Italy in Sunday's Euro 2020 final] but I will be on the plane now. It won't sink in until I get back from the tour and I will have to pinch myself on the plane.”

Warren Gatland has told his British and Irish Lions stars to keep "rolling with the punches" in South Africa as another clash with the Sharks arrives.

On their turbulent tour, the Lions were due to face the Bulls on Saturday, but several COVID-19 cases in the Pretoria team's ranks meant that game had to be called off.

Into their place come the Sharks, the side that the Lions crushed 54-7 on Wednesday in their second match of the tour.

The shift of venue from Ellis Park to Loftus Versfeld will be one notable change, and in terms of personnel it will be a distinctly different match to the first meeting, with the Lions making 13 alterations to their starting line-up and the Sharks also electing for near wholesale change.

Wing Anthony Watson makes his first start on the tour, and his England team-mate, hooker Jamie George, captains the side. Centre Elliot Daly and wing Duhan van der Merwe are the only players to keep their place in the team.

Coronavirus cases in the England camp, as well as in the ranks of South Africa who have had to call off a match against Georgia, have seen doubts raised about whether the Tests later on the tour will go ahead as planned.

Gatland said: "It's obviously been a slightly turbulent week, but we remain determined to 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 night 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.

"I have long been an admirer of Jamie's leadership skills, so I am delighted to name him skipper.

"We want to pass on thanks to the Sharks boys for fronting up and going again on Saturday. The spirit of rugby and a great chance for them to have another shot at us."

 


WATSON GETS CHANCE TO IMPRESS

The Lions have a tasty back three for this game, with Watson joined by Liam Williams and midweek hat-trick hero Duhan van der Merwe. Watson played all three Tests on the 2017 tour of New Zealand, making a big impact in the drawn series, and looks highly likely to start against South Africa too. Getting some good minutes in now should bring benefit later, and with few backs options on the bench, Watson looks to see plenty of action against the Sharks.

GEORGE CAN STAKE A CLAIM

After catching the eye against Johannesburg's Lions last weekend, George gets another opportunity to impress Gatland, this time as skipper. The coach's warm words underlined his appreciation of the Saracens hooker, who has Ken Owens and Luke Cowan-Dickie as rivals for the number two Test shirt. It is up to George to show leadership skills this weekend, as he attempts to play his way into the side that takes on the Springboks.


British and Irish Lions: Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Chris Harris, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Rory Sutherland, Jamie George (captain), Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Tadhg Beirne, Hamish Watson, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Wyn Jones, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, Sam Simmonds, Tom Curry, Conor Murray, Finn Russell.

Sharks: Anthony Volmink, Marnus Potgieter, Werner Kok, Murray Koster, Thaakir Abrahams, Lionel Cronje, Jaden Hendrikse; Nthuthuko Mchunu, Kerron van Vuuren, Wiehahn Herbst, Le Roux Roets, Reniel Hugo, Dylan Richardson, Mpilo Gumede, Phepsi Buthelezi (captain).

Replacements: Dan Jooste, MJ Majola, Khutha Mchunu, Thembelani Bholi, Jeandre Labuschagne, Cameron Wright, Boeta Chamberlain, Jeremy Ward, Lourens Adriaanse, Rynhardt Jonker, Curwin Bosch.


KEY OPTA FACTS

- The Lions' win on Wednesday was their biggest ever against the Sharks/Natal. Overall the British and Irish Lions have won 11 of their 12 fixtures against the Sharks/Natal, the exception being a 3-3 draw back on the 1924 tour.
- The Lions have scored 50-plus points in each of their last two matches. They have never recorded a half-century of points in three consecutive games.
- Phepsi Buthelezi made 20 carries against the Lions on Wednesday, the most by a Sharks player since May 2015 when Bismarck du Plessis made 20 against the Highlanders in a Super Rugby fixture. He is the only member of the pack thart started on Wednesday to stay in the team for Saturday.
- Josh Adams sits this game out, after being the the only player to feature for every minute possible with the Lions this year. Adams has scored eight tries, twice as many as any other player, while he also leads the way for carries (26), metres gained (238) and defenders beaten (13).
- Elliot Daly has assisted three tries for the Lions in his two games, more than any other player in the squad, with those three assists coming from just nine passes in total.

The British and Irish Lions will face the Sharks for the second time this week after the scheduled clash with the Bulls was postponed.

Warren Gatland's men were due to take on the Bulls in their third match of the trip on Saturday, but that match was called off due to coronavirus cases in the Pretoria-based franchise's squad.

Instead, the tourists will do battle with the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld, just three days after hammering them 54-7.

SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux said: "The choice of the Sharks was dictated by the fact that they have been in a bubble, have returned negative tests throughout and were prepared to take on the fixture.

"No other team in the country could meet those conditions right now – without going into a five-day lockdown. It is not an ideal situation, but COVID-19 has made sure that we do not live in an ideal world."

Lions managing director Ben Calveley said: "We’re very grateful to the Sharks for agreeing to play us again this Saturday at Loftus Versfeld.

"We have further COVID-19 testing scheduled for today [Thursday] and tomorrow. The results of those tests will determine whether we will be able fulfil this fixture, but, as it stands, we are optimistic.

"We remain committed to the tour in South Africa and determined to rise to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic."

Lions head coach Gatland insisted he is not concerned about the viability of the tour despite a coronavirus outbreak hitting his squad just hours before their midweek drubbing of the Sharks.

South Africa were due to do battle with Georgia but COVID-19 cases in both camps put paid to that fixture just a fortnight before the first Test against the Lions.

The Springboks playing and management group returned 12 positive tests this week, with Georgia returning four. 

The British and Irish Lions brushed off uncertainty threatening to engulf their tour as they made it two emphatic wins from two matches in South Africa with a 7-54 win over Sharks in Johannesburg.

After two members of the Lions staff tested positive for Covid-19 hours before kick-off, ruling eight members of the squad out of the game, Warren Gatland gave debuts to Tom Curry, Josh Navidi and Adam Beard.

Three tries each for Josh Adams and Duhan van der Merwe ensured Gatland's patchwork side made light work of a defensively frail Sharks team.

Further tries from Bundee Aki and Louis Rees-Zammit and composed kicking by Owen Farrell and Finn Russell gave the Lions a scoreline that will keep morale in the camp high despite the uncertainty shrouding the tour.

Adams made it six tries in three matches before a neat attacking move saw Van der Merwe round Thaakir Abrahams to go over, with Farrell converting both to give the Lions a 14-point lead inside seven minutes.

Farrell sent a superbly weighted grubber deep into Sharks territory where Van der Merwe beat Elliot Daly to the ball and touched down to make it 0-19.

A fine half of attacking rugby was capped with a fourth try when Luke Cowan-Dickie drove Sharks back before Aki forced his way past James Venter and made his first score for the Lions, and Farrell converted to make it 0-26 at half-time.

Sharks improved after the interval and pulled a try back through Venter, who could not be stopped down the right touchline and went over before Curwin Bosch converted.

Farrell, struggling with a shoulder injury, was replaced shortly before Adams capitalised on a Marius Louw error, hacking on to score a try that Russell converted.

Adams fed Rees-Zammit, who showed his electric pace to score under the posts and Russell converted to make it 40-7 with 20 minutes left, and Van der Merwe completed his hat-trick when Daly's clever pass put him through in the corner.

Two minutes from time, Adams emulated his team-mate, scoring his third of the game after good hands in midfield from Beard and Taulupe Faletau.

Lions continue to roar, for now

Should the outbreak of coronavirus in the Lions camp spread beyond the two positives already detected, the uplift from this result may be shortlived. 

What's more, Gatland has injuries to Farrell (shoulder), Rees-Zammit (hamstring) and Navidi (shin) to contend with.

Simmonds makes his mark

Sam Simmonds went into the game determined to make a point to England head coach Eddie Jones, who has not rewarded his outstanding performances for Exeter Chiefs. 

The number eight had a superb first half, making more carries (six) than any other Lions forward, and only Josh Adams (31m) and Elliot Daly (51m) made more metres than his 30.

The British and Irish Lions' clash with the Sharks is in doubt after a member of their management team tested positive for coronavirus, while South Africa's game with Georgia is off.

Warren Gatland's men are due to face the Sharks in the second match of their tour of South Africa on Wednesday.

However, four members of the touring party, including two players, are now isolating having been deemed to be close contacts of the individual who had the positive test result.

Kick-off has been pushed back to 20:00 local time (19:00 BST) pending the results of PCR tests for the rest of the touring party. The game will go ahead should those tests return negative results.

"We have followed all necessary precautions since the start of the tour, which included regular testing and rigorous COVID-19 counter measure planning and protocols," said Ben Calveley, managing director for the Lions.

"Our priority is to ensure the health and safety of the entire touring party, which is why we quickly isolated the players and staff upon receiving the news of the positive result.

"Everyone has subsequently been lateral flow and PCR tested. The Medical Advisory Group await the results of the PCR testing in order to make a decision on tonight's game.

"The five individuals affected will be monitored closely during isolation and receive the best possible medical attention as we await the results of their PCR tests."

The Springboks' second Test with Georgia was cancelled due to COVID outbreaks in both camps.

South Africa's playing and management group returned 12 positive tests this week, with Georgia returning four. 

Jurie Roux, CEO of South Africa Rugby, said: "In the context of the loss of life and economic damage that COVID and this third wave are wreaking, the cancellation of a rugby match is pretty trivial.

"But it is still a major disappointment for the many stakeholders who have invested so much time, energy and resources into making these matches happen.

"I especially feel for the fans and players, and for our visitors from Georgia who travelled here at relatively short notice to take on the series, which has now been cut short. We've not been able to interact with them because of the bio-secure environments, but I'd like to thank them publicly for their support.

"We continue to plan for the Springboks' re-emergence from isolation and the completion of the Test series but in the short term we wish a speedy recovery for those who have been infected."

The Lions' clash with the Bulls on Saturday is already off and, while they are scheduled to face South Africa 'A' next Wednesday, the remainder of the tour now looks to be in question.

South Africa have recorded a further 10 COVID-19 cases, including head coach Jacques Nienaber, while the British and Irish Lions' match with the Bulls has been postponed.

A Lions statement on Tuesday confirmed they were exploring a rescheduling of the match or finding different opponents after five positive tests meant it was "impossible" for the Bulls to field a team.

The Lions' meeting with the Sharks in Johannesburg next Wednesday is set to go ahead as scheduled.

However, the Springboks' match with Georgia next week is also in doubt after Nienaber, five management figures and four players - Marvin Orie, Frans Steyn, Handre Pollard and Frans Malherbe - all returned positive tests.

There were also four cases of the virus within the Georgia team. Jurie Roux, CEO of South Africa Rugby, said the news underlined the problems posed by the Delta variant of the virus, which was first identified in India but has since spread to numerous countries.

"These positive results are a setback and have underlined the danger of transmissibility of the Delta variant," he said.

"The Springboks' second Test against Georgia is now in serious doubt, but we will wait for the MAG to consider the data and we will make the final decision tomorrow [Wednesday].

"The priority is to maintain the integrity of the Test series and we will continue to focus on that."

On Monday, South Africa suspended training and placed their squad in isolation after lock Lood de Jager tested positive for coronavirus.

There had been three further confirmed cases of the virus within the squad on June 27, although they were still able to go ahead with their first warm-up match against Georgia, which ended in a 40-9 victory for the Boks.

It was their first match since winning the World Cup in November 2019.

The first Test with the Lions is due to take place on July 24 in Cape Town, before moving to Johannesburg for the second and third matches.

The British and Irish Lions are focused on delivering a strong showing against the Sharks on Wednesday rather than uncertainty over their schedule due to the coronavirus.

Warren Gatland's side thrashed Johannesburg's own Lions 56-14 in their opening tour match at Ellis Park on Saturday, Josh Adams helping himself to a four-try haul.

Tom Curry, Josh Navidi and Adam Beard will now make their Lions debuts, while Iain Henderson takes over as captain for a midweek showdown with the Sharks at the same venue.

Sam Simmonds comes in for his first international start in over three years, but it is once again COVID-19 cases rather than selection that has dominated the pre-match talk.

The Springboks suspended training on Monday after Lood de Jager tested positive for the virus, with the players forced back into isolation.

Positive cases in the Bulls camp have put Saturday's match in doubt, but Lions defence coach Steve Tandy said they are taking a flexible approach.

"We'd weigh up if we need to give the boys a day off, if we need an internal match or a heavier loaded contact day," Tandy said when asked about plans if the Bulls game is called off.

"Through COVID, I think you learn you need to adapt. You can have the best laid plans, but things move really quickly and change - it's just be prepared for whatever comes our way at whatever moment in time. Whatever the group needs, more contact, an extra day off for recovery - we'll just adapt that as we go."

Phepsi Buthelezi returns t0 lead the Sharks at number eight, while Khutha Mchunu takes Wiehahn Herbst's place in the front row.

 

SIMMONDS DETERMINED TO GRASP HIS CHANCE

Simmonds has continued to be overlooked by England head coach Eddie Jones despite producing consistently outstanding performances for Exeter Chiefs.

The number eight, comfortably the leading try-scorer in the Premiership last season with 21, is determined to show he belongs on the Test stage.

"When you are starting you really get the opportunity to show what you can do and hopefully put what I have been doing in the last year or so into a Lions jersey," Simmonds said.

"As soon as I got selected for the Lions squad that was my sole focus – to push everyone here, to push to try and get as many games as I can and as a team the ultimate goal is to win the Test series in South Africa."

 

 

GATLAND WANTS BACK ROW TO PUT ON SHOW

New Zealander Gatland is excited to see what the back row he has selected can serve up in the second tour match.

"There's a huge amount of competition in the back row and I spoke to them all last night and just said, 'Look, you've got a licence from me to get your hands on the ball'," coach Gatland said.

"I want them to express themselves. I said they are probably not renowned as lineout experts but you have to play to your strengths, and they are strong defenders and great ball carriers.

"It's a different aspect to look at, but it's exciting and I’m really looking forward to seeing how they go as a trio. If you look at those players they are strong defenders, exciting ball carriers."

 

British and Irish Lions: Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Bundee Aki, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Zander Fagerson, Iain Henderson (captain), Adam Beard, Josh Navidi, Tom Curry, Sam Simmonds.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Rory Sutherland, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Stuart Hogg, Chris Harris.

 

Sharks: Manie Libbok, Werner Kok, Jeremy Ward, Marius Louw, Thaakir Abrahams, Curwin Bosch, Jaden Hendrikse; Khwezi Mona, Fez Mbatha, Khutha Mchunu, Ruben van Heerden, Hyron Andrews, James Venter, Thembelani Bholi, Phepsi Buthelezi (captain).

Replacements: Kerron van Vuuren, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Wiehahn Herbst, JJ van der Mescht, Reniel Hugo, Dylan Richardson, Grant Williams, Anthony Volmink.

 

Key Opta facts

- The Sharks and the Lions met in 2009, with the tourists winning that match 39-3. Lee Mears, Mike Phillips, Luke Fitzgerald, Lee Byrne and Jamie Heaslip all crossed for tries.
- The Lions have won 10 of their 11 fixtures against the Sharks/Natal, the exception being a 3-3 draw back on the 1924 tour.
- The Sharks had a 50 per cent win rate in the recently concluded Rainbow Cup SA (W3, L3), beating the Johannesburg-based Lions twice and the Stormers once.
- Following their victory over the Lions, the tourists are now unbeaten in their past five matches (W3, D2). That is their best run since winning six in a row in a run that spanned the 2009 and 2013 tours.
- The Lions are yet to miss a kick at goal so far in 2021, with Dan Biggar having slotted four from four and Owen Farrell landing all eight.

Rugby World Cup-winning South Africa captain Siya Kolisi has officially signed with the Sharks.

Kolisi was at the weekend released from his contract with the Stormers, which had been due to expire in October, upon the acceptance of a transfer fee.

The 29-year-old flanker was expected to join Durban-based franchise the Sharks and that move was confirmed on Wednesday.

Kolisi made 118 Super Rugby appearances in his 11 years with the Stormers, for whom only Schalk Burger (123) managed more.

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