Gatland expects all three Lions Tests to be in Cape Town

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British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland walks on the field before a tour match against the Sharks at Ellis Park in Johannesburg this week
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British and Irish Lions rugby coach Warren Gatland said on Friday he expected all three Tests against South Africa to be played in Cape Town.

"I'm not 100 percent sure, but I'm pretty sure they will be played in Cape Town," he said during an online press conference in Johannesburg.

"That's my understanding, but until they give us a 100 percent confirmation, we will have to wait and see."

According to the current itinerary, only the first Test against the Springboks, on July 24, is scheduled for Cape Town, with the other two planned for Johannesburg on July 31 and August 7.

But there has been speculation that the plan might be changed due to a Covid-19 surge in the Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The Lions have been training with the high altitude of Johannesburg in mind, but Gatland admitted that "to play three Tests at sea level is a real positive for us".

South Africa Rugby has not commented on possible changes to the itinerary.

The Lions are due to fly to Cape Town on Sunday following Saturday's match against the Sharks in Pretoria.

Gatland was speaking after announcing 13 changes in the Lions team that will face the Sharks for the second time in four days.

The Sharks agreed to a second fixture after a match against the Bulls was called off because of a Covid-19 outbreak in their camp.

- Covid scare -

Gatland said he hoped the Lions would soon be back to full strength after a Covid scare in their own camp.

Three staff members and one player remain in isolation at the team hotel after a staff member tested positive.

But a player who originally tested a "weak positive" has been cleared along with his close contacts.

Gatland said he hoped the full squad would be together again by Wednesday.

The Lions coach said he was not sure who his team would play in their first match in Cape Town on Wednesday. They scheduled to face South Africa A, whose players will be drawn from the Springbok squad.

But with several cases of coronavirus in the Springbok camp, the Lions coach said there was a possibility they would play the Stormers franchise team in a swop of fixtures.

The Lions were originally due to play the Stormers on July 17, but Gatland said the South Africa A game might be pushed back to that date with the Stormers match brought forward three days to July 14.

Lions team (15-1)

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

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

Coach: Warren Gatland (NZL)

cb-dl/pb

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