Extra game for Boks before Lions Tests
South Africa have organised an extra game for their squad to prepare for the British and Irish Lions Test series, ensuring back-to-back matches at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday in yet another tweak to the tour schedule.
A South Africa A line-up will play domestic team the Bulls before the British and Irish Lions face the Stormers in what’s also their last warm-up for the first Test a week later.
The Springboks are in dire need of match practice after playing just one Test – against Georgia this month – in two years since winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Some players did get a second game in South Africa A’s victory over the Lions in a scheduled tour match on Wednesday night.
But a long lay-off because of the coronavirus pandemic, and a cancelled second Test against Georgia this month because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the Springboks’ squad, has left coaching staff fretting over a lack of match fitness for the world champions.
“We want to be as well prepared as possible when we meet the British and Irish Lions,” said South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus.
Erasmus will take over coaching duties for the squad this week while head coach Jacques Nienaber undergoes isolation protocols after being one of more than a dozen Springboks players and backroom staff to test positive for the virus.
Nienaber has now joined the squad in Cape Town.
British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland this week turned down an offer from Erasmus for South Africa A and the Lions to play each other for a second time this weekend.
South Africa A won the first game 17-13.
“I don’t see it as our role to prepare them for the Test series,” Gatland said. “I think he was trying to wind us up saying we’re scared (to play South Africa A again).”
The Lions’ tour to South Africa, which comes around once every 12 years, has been constantly affected by the pandemic.
All the games were moved to the cities of Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town to limit the Lions’ possible exposure to the virus while travelling.
The Lions also had one early tour match against the Bulls cancelled, with different opposition stepping in, because of positive virus tests in the Bulls squad.
Both the South Africa and Lions squads have had players and coaching staff put in isolation, either for positive virus tests or because of possible exposure.