THE Lions’ game against the Bulls on Saturday was postponed last night after four players in the Pretoria-based squad tested positive for Covid-19. 

And the South Africa v Georgia international on Friday is now extremely doubtful after players from both camps and officials including Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber also tested positive.

Announcing the postponement, the Lions - whose game against the Sharks tonight in Johannesburg will go ahead as planned - said they hoped to be able either to rearrange the Bulls game or find a different opponent. Warren Gatland’s squad have only three games on their playing schedule after the Sharks match before the start of their three-Test series against the Springboks, and losing one of those games would potentially deal a damaging blow to their preparations.

“The British & Irish Lions’ Castle Lager Lions Series match against the Vodacom Bulls on Saturday has been postponed with a view to rescheduling or to accommodate an alternative opponent, while the Springboks’ second Test against Georgia on Friday is also being reviewed,” the Lions statement read.

“Four Bulls players and one member of management returned positive tests which, in combination with their close contacts, made it impossible for them to field a team, according to series safety protocols. Series regulations make provision for additional midweek matches to be added on agreement between the organizations.

“Meanwhile four positive results among the Georgian team and four additional positive tests among Springbok players (Marvin Orie, Frans Steyn, Handre Pollard and Frans Malherbe) plus six among management, including head coach Jacques Nienaber, and one masseuse, have further complicated planning. The latest medical data from the Springbok and Georgian teams will be assessed by the Medical Advisory Group (MAG) on Wednesday morning.”

Earlier yesterday, before the Bulls postponement was confirmed, Lions assistant coach Steve Tandy explained that, although there were no hard-and-fast contingency plans in place, the Lions had already worked out their options in the event of a cancellation. “We haven’t confirmed anything,” he said. “We may give an extra day off, maybe train a little bit harder on the Friday, but that would be something we’ll confirm when we get confirmation around what will happen.

“I think we’ll weigh up whether we maybe need to give the boys an extra day off or whether we feel we need that internal match or maybe a heavier-loaded contact day.

“I think through Covid what you learn is you have to adapt. You can have the best-laid plans, but things move really quickly. It’s just being prepared for whatever comes our way at whatever time.

“Anything is possible with Covid, we’ve seen that. But if there’s any opportunity to play a game if games are called off, then that would be great for us and whoever is looking for a game.

“I think it’s only as difficult as you make it,” he continued when asked if a cancellation would make selection for the Tests all the more difficult. “We have to adapt, and what will be will be. 

“We’re seeing the boys training, we’d like to think everyone would have had a chance to put his name in the hat for the Test series, we watch them every day. I think people can make it more difficult than it is. The competition is already going to be difficult, because the standard in training and in games is huge. I don’t think it will make too much of a difference.”

One possibility that had been mentioned was a match between the Lions and the Georgians, who lost their first Test against the Springboks last Friday. But the news of positive tests in the Georgian camp too has surely ruled that out as a viable alternative.

Meanwhile, Stuart Hogg has emerged as a doubt for tonight’s game against the Sharks this evening after picking up an injury in training. The Scotland captain, who led the tourists to an emphatic win over the Sigma Lions in their first match in South Africa at the weekend, will be tested this morning before it is decided whether he is fit to take his place on the bench tonight.

“Hoggy is carrying a little bit of a dead leg,” Tandy said. “So we’ll probably make a decision on that in the morning to see how he holds up.”