THE British & Irish Lions will play the Cell C Sharks for the second time in four days on Saturday in a match which will replace the scheduled game against the Bulls. 

The Lions, who beat the Sharks 54-7 at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Wednesday, had been facing a blank weekend after the Bulls had to pull out of the planned fixture because of positive Covid tests within their squad. But the Sharks agreed to step into the breach even though their squad will have had little time in which to recover from their midweek defeat. 

The new match will go ahead at the original venue, Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, and the Lions are optimistic that some of their players who had to sit out Wednesday’s game will be available. Two unnamed players will almost certainly still be sidelined after being identified as close contacts of a member of staff who tested positive. But another player who also tested positive earlier in the week has since returned a negative result from a new test, meaning both he and his close contacts should be free to play.

“We tested the individual again today and the test came back negative,” Lions managing director Ben Calveley said yesterday. “He has to test again tomorrow, and if that also comes back negative then he and all of his close contacts will be available for selection against the Sharks.”

If the player does test positive again, the Sharks game could yet be called off, as the Lions would not want to use all the same players who turned out in Wednesday’s eight-try win. Some of those who turned out at short notice were playing their third game in a row following previous outings against Japan and the Sigma Lions, and were clearly feeling the effects by the end of the Sharks match.

Other members of Warren Gatland’s squad, by contrast, are notably short of match practice, and the head coach is eager to give them game time with the three-Test series against the Springboks now just 15 days away. The cancellation of the Bulls game and tonight’s match between South Africa and Georgia, as well as the problems within the Lions camp, have led to increasing worries about the Tests, 

which are due to be played in front of empty stands in Cape Town and Johannesburg at a time when crowds have returned to British venues like Wembley and Wimbledon. 

Some critics have consistently called for the Tests to be moved to the UK, on safety grounds as well as to enable them to be played in front of supporters. Calveley insisted there were no plans in place to do that, although he did admit there was a possibility that all three matches rather than just the first one could be played in Cape Town. 

“We made the decision back in March that we would make this tour work in South Africa,” he continued. “At the moment we haven’t deviated from the originally agreed schedule, but of course we are contingency planning all the time.

“It’s certainly not as simple as just hopping on a flight and playing the series out on British soil. We fly to Cape Town on Sunday, where we have more fixtures, and there are no plans for us to do anything different to that.

“We have two matches scheduled down in Cape Town. The current intention is that we play those matches there. What happens after that - we’re currently in discussion with the South African rugby union. At the moment we haven’t deviated from the originally agreed schedule, but of course we are contingency planning all the time.” 

The “vast majority” of the touring party have had two jags, according to Calveley, who would not say how many players had not been vaccinated at all, but insisted that the protocols in place were robust enough to ensure that the series will be completed. “I think everybody has a right to make their own decision on whether or not they want to be vaccinated. 

“We have a number of strategies in place to mitigate the risk in any environment and I think it’s wrong for anyone to think that vaccination is some sort of universal panacea. I’m afraid it’s not. 

“I’m confident that as long as we all exhibit the right behaviours, which we are, then we give it the absolute best possible chance of going right the way through to the end of that third Test.”


Sat 10 Sharks v Lions (Pretoria 5pm)

Wed 14 South Africa ‘A’ v Lions (Cape Town 7pm)

Sat 17 Stormers v Lions (Cape Town 5pm)

Sat 24 South Africa v Lions (Cape Town 5pm)

Sat 31 South Africa v Lions (Johannesburg 5pm)

Sat 7 August South Africa v Lions (Johannesburg 5pm)