Lions tour not in jeopardy despite Covid-19 crisis - Nienaber

·2-min read
Jacques Nienaber addresses the media in Pretoria after being named head coach of the Springboks last year.

South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber said on Tuesday that the British and Irish Lions tour is not in jeopardy despite five of the eight matches being scheduled for the coronavirus-swamped Gauteng province.

"I do not believe the tour is in jeopardy," Nienaber told reporters after naming the Springboks team to play Georgia on Friday in a warm-up match for the three-Test Lions series.

"There is not a Springbok player who does not want to participate in this tour because it is so special, coming around just once every 12 years.

"I am not an expert in Covid, viruses and virology, but we are trying to mitigate the risks of infection and adhere to the health protocols.

"With a virus, I do not think you can completely take away the risk of contracting it, but the precautions being taken to keep us as safe as possible are magical and we are abiding by them."

Both the Springboks and the Lions are staying in bio bubbles and will leave them only for training, matches and travel.

Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, is the epicentre of a Covid-19 third wave as the national death toll from the disease rose above 60,000 on Monday.

Starting this Saturday, Johannesburg will host the first two and last two matches and another is set for Pretoria with Cape Town staging the other three.

There has been speculation that the entire tour would be moved to Cape Town with several senior rugby officials telling AFP that "discussions had taken place".

- Two Springboks in isolation -

Cape Town is currently less severely hit by the pandemic, which led President Cyril Ramaphosa to move national restrictions to stage four on Sunday, the second highest level.

The sale of alcohol has been prohibited, dining in restaurants barred and a nightly curfew extended to seven hours in a country where the slow vaccine rollout has drawn medical and political criticism.

Nienaber confirmed that two Springboks -- winger Sibusiso Nkosi and prop Vincent Koch -- are in isolation after testing positive for coronavirus at the weekend.

Scrum-half Herschel Jantjies, who also tested positive, has recovered and been named among the eight replacements for the Georgia Test.

While the Springboks prepare for their first Test since winning the World Cup in November 2019 after all 13 internationals last year were cancelled due to Covid-19, amateur and club rugby has been halted.

"Although the government gazette allows club rugby to continue, provinces have halted club and amateur rugby and we are grateful for this safety-first approach,” said SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux.

"I want to compliment all the role players, including administrators, coaches and players, for this proactive decision due to the recent resurgence of Covid-19."

The most senior domestic competition, the Currie Cup, will continue, but a match between the Bulls and Cheetahs scheduled for Pretoria on Wednesday has been called off owing to positive tests.

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