WHILE not bragging about this as it was a simple call to make, I did predict that Covid-19 chaos would seriously affect the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa. I did not foresee the violent crisis which is currently afflicting that country, but it is Covid-19 which has now disrupted the Test series.

The announcement yesterday that all three Test matches will be played in Cape Town is common sense, and was the strong advice of the medical experts who are being extensively consulted almost every hour of the tour.  The latter two Tests were scheduled for Johannesburg but player safety has rightly been put first.

The comments of Jurie Roux, chief executive of SA Rugby, were the most sensible I have heard since the Tour began: "The series has already been significantly disrupted by Covid-19.

"We now have two teams in bio-secure environments without any positive cases or anyone in isolation. To now return to the Highveld would expose the series to renewed risk.

"Everyone wants to see the two squads, at their strongest, play out an unforgettable series over the next three weekends and this decision gives us the best opportunity to see that happen."

Johannesburg’s loss is Cape Town’s gain and the move to the wonderful Cape Town Stadium may also be a huge boost for the Lions. For instead of having to play two matches at the FNB Stadium in Jo’burg at an altitude, give or take, of more than 5,000ft (1,700m), the Lions will be playing at sea level – Cape Town Stadium is just a short stroll from the waterfront.

Perhaps yesterday’s news will offset the major psychological blow struck by Springboks’ management yesterday.

Ahead of the First Test between South Africa and the British and Irish Lions, there has been a vast amount of uncertainty over the line-ups for Saturday, not least because of the coronavirus pandemic and the amount of positive cases and self-isolation that has affected both squads. There has never been anything like this in Lions’ rugby, and hopefully there never will be again.

There’s been all the usual speculation about the Lions’ selection, but it looked as though it would be South Africa who would delay naming their match day 23 to the last minute, principally because captain Siya Kolisi, winger Makazole Mapimpi and prop Ox Nché were all in self-isolation until Monday.

Yet in a bold move that speaks of huge self-confidence, head coach Jacques Nienaber named his starting XV and his bench of eight replacements, and didn’t bat an eyelid when doing so.  I detect the hand of the wily Rassie Erasmus in the decision to announce early – the director of rugby will have wanted to move things on from the disastrous performance by South Africa A at the weekend at the hands of the Bulls.  

Still, it took courage for Nienaber to go early with his 23. Sure enough Kolisi, Mapimpi and Nché are all starting the match, named in a team which can be described accurately in just two words – World Champions.

You might say ‘well what else was he going to do’ and you would have a point. But to front up and name the 23 men is a real challenge to the Lions. Basically the Boks are saying ‘here we are, we’re the reigning champions of the world, can you beat it?’ and when you look at the names you just have to ask, can the Lions really match this awesome team?

The Lions’ management will have at least an extra 24 hours to digest the news from the opposition camp, and maybe that’s an advantage as I have no doubt Head Coach Warren Gatland already knows his starting XV and may now wish to adjust it. He will also have deduced Neinaber’s tactics including his substitutions – and it’s off the bench that the Test may be won.

For no matter who starts for the Lions, there will be eight players on the bench capable of making an impact when they come onto the field. I am not so certain that applies to the Boks. Yes the changes they made, especially up front, in the World Cup final contributed greatly to their victory over England, and that front row switch looks to be on the cards again.  Yet I am confident Gatland will have worked out the permutations to ensure the Lions will have fresh legs when needed in a match in which, for all the attacking flair possessed by both back lines, will be won and lost in the forward battles. 

It usually always is, especially when there will be two strong packs trying to outmuscle each other. For what it’s worth I am betting on the Lions to win, but will not be surprised if the Boks triumph in the Second Test to set up a clash of the ages.