Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber will be happier than British & Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland after all that transpired at Loftus Versfeld and Ellis Park over the weekend. While the world champions were not at their accurate and clinical best in what was their first game as a team in nearly two years, they enjoyed a valuable physical hit-out against a passionate and well-organised Georgia side.

Comparing the match at Loftus Versfeld on Friday with the fixture at Ellis Park on Saturday is like comparing night and day. The Lions were indeed clinical and accurate in their dismantling of the local Lions side, scoring eight tries in an emphatic 56-14 win. The quality of opposition at Ellis Park, however, was woefully poor – and it should concern Gatland to note that the coming fixtures against the Sharks and Bulls may be similarly one-sided.

These fixtures will give Gatland an opportunity to experiment with different combinations, and there’s little doubt that the players will take some confidence from a series of big wins. Whether these contests prepare the Lions for the physical and mental challenge of facing a determined and well-coached Springbok team is a different story.

The Covid-19 situation in South Africa has taken a turn for the worse over the past few weeks. We’ve known for some time that all eight Lions tour matches, as well as the two-Test series between the Boks and Georgia, would be staged behind closed doors. With a third wave of infections hitting the country, and with the province of Gauteng in dire straits, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has imposed tighter restrictions with the aim of containing the spread of the virus.

On Friday night, while the Boks were cruising to a 40-9 win over Georgia in Pretoria, it was reported that South Africa had racked up 24,270 new cases, surpassing the record set for daily infections during the peak of the country’s second wave in January. With Gauteng at the centre of the coronavirus storm, it’s little wonder that authorities are considering moving the last two matches of the three-Test series to Cape Town, where the Covid-19 situation is less severe.

The concern over further infections in the Bok squad – Vincent Koch, S'bu Nkosi and Herschel Jantjies tested positive upon arrival to the South African camp in Johannesburg on 26 June, although Jantjies was subsequently cleared – is part of the reason why the South African franchises have been watered down ahead of their matches against the touring Lions. Players in the Springbok bubble are not permitted to rejoin their clubs for a one-off fixture against the Lions and then return to the national camp the following week. The risk of contracting the virus, and infecting the rest of the national squad upon their return, is too high.

The upshot is that approximately 50 of South Africa’s best players will not feature for the four franchises against the Lions. It’s important to note that 22 of the 46 national squad members are currently based at overseas clubs. Nevertheless, taking 24 players out of the franchise system is bound to dilute the local challenge.

Several other players who would have been considered for club matches against the Lions, such as Kurt-Lee Arendse, Stedman Gans and Ruhan Nel, have joined the South African sevens team ahead of their Olympic campaign in Tokyo.

To be fair to the Lions, they can only play what’s in front of them. Indeed, Gatland should be encouraged by how his charges started in Johannesburg.

Maro Itoje was at the heart of a dominant lineout and maul, while Hamish Watson turned in a warrior-like performance at the collisions. Courtney Lawes picked up from where Tadhg Beirne left off in the previous fixture in Japan, lending further weight to the argument that the Lions must persist with a lock-cum-flanker at No 6.

Under pressure to deliver a strong performance in the rarefied air of the highveld, Stuart Hogg produced a solid showing under the high ball and was a constant threat on attack. Josh Adams took his chances well to claim four tries, and as a team the Lions may have scored more had they followed the ruthless winger’s lead.

The impact of the bench should not be taken lightly. Overseas teams, who are unfamiliar with the draining effects of altitude, typically run out of steam late in a game staged on the highveld. Sam Simmonds and Elliot Daly lent impetus to the Lions in the closing stages, and overall the tourists managed to maintain their levels of intensity.

And yet, Gatland and his team would do well to keep their feet on the ground and realise that the tour will only get tougher from hereon in. The Johannesburg-based Lions are the weakest of the four South African franchises. Furthermore, it's worth noting that the hosts opted to start the bulk of their first-choice players from the bench.

The Sharks and Bulls should pose a greater challenge, even though the former will be forced to travel to Johannesburg for the ‘home’ fixture on Wednesday, and the Bulls – who won the Super Rugby Unlocked series, the Currie Cup and the South African division of the Rainbow Cup  – have been stripped of their Boks and Blitzboks ahead of Saturday's game.

Jake White guided the Boks to the 2007 World Cup and was at the helm of the Brumbies when the Australian side beat the Lions in 2013. Now director of rugby at the Bulls, White is desperate for another victory over the famous touring team from the northern hemisphere.

The Bulls beat the Lions 35-30 at Loftus Versfeld back in 1997. With so many stars on national duty this time around, however, they may struggle to replicate that incredible feat. Indeed, it would come as a surprise to see any South African franchise pushing the Lions close on a tour like no other.