ALL three Tests between the British & Irish Lions and South Africa are now likely to be played in Cape Town, according to Warren Gatland. 

Officially, the schedule is for the first Test to be played a fortnight today in Cape Town with the next two in Johannesburg on the following two weekends. But, with the Covid situation being particularly severe in Gauteng, the province in which Johannesburg lies, and, with the Lions flying to Cape Town tomorrow[Sun], the switch to sea level has begun to seem far safer.

“I’m not 100 per cent sure, but I’m pretty sure that they’ll be played in Cape Town,” the Lions coach said last night. “That hasn’t been 100 per cent confirmed: that is my understanding at the moment, but until they give us 100 per cent confirmation, we just have to wait and see. 

“But I think they’re definitely going to be in Cape Town. The way that we’ve been working in training, if they’re going to play three Tests at sea level I think it’s a real positive for us.”  

Gatland also admitted there could be a further change to the fixture list, albeit a less significant one. After today’s game against the Sharks in Pretoria, the tourists are due to play South Africa ‘A’ on Wednesday then the Stormers a week today, but there is now uncertainty over which order those games will be played in.

“We’re not 100 per cent sure who the opposition is going to be next week, so it’s a little bit difficult to plan too far ahead,” the coach continued. “It will either be the Springboks [ie South Africa ‘A’ ]or the Stormers. They might switch those games around. That hasn’t been confirmed - hopefully in the next 24 hours we’ll know which way those games go.”

The good news is that the Lions’ own Covid problems have cleared up somewhat since midweek. All the players tested negative today, including the player who tested positive on Wednesday, so he and his close contacts have been cleared to train and play.

But a member of management has been confirmed as a positive case, so five of his close contacts - one player and four other members of staff - are in isolation. The Lions have not identified any of those involved.

Scotland captain Stuart Hogg was one of the players who had to drop out of Wednesday’s first game against the Sharks, and he is not in the squad for today’s rematch either. The full-back had been a doubt with a dead leg, but Gatland did not say whether that was what kept him out or if it was because he was a close contact. “He’s fit,” was all the coach would say.

Provided he does not test positive in the coming days, the player who remains in isolation should be cleared to play against whichever team turns up to take on the Lions a week today. Meanwhile, five Scots are in this afternoon’s matchday 23 to play the Sharks for the second time in four days. Chris Harris, Duhan van der Merwe, Rory Sutherland and Hamish Watson all start, while Finn Russell is on the bench. English hooker Jamie George will captain the team for the match at Loftus Versfeld.  

Sharks coach Sean Everitt has made 11 personnel changes and one positional switch to his starting line-up. Captain and No 8 Phepsi Buthelezi is the only member of the pack to keep his place, while behind the scrum winger Thaakir Abrahams and scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse also hold on to their jerseys. Werner Kok, the home side’s most effective player in midweek, switches from the wing to outside centre.

Far from being downhearted at the prospect of such a swift rematch against a team that scored eight tries against his side, Everitt insisted that a little more composure could result in a significantly improved performance. “We didn’t show enough patience with the ball on Wednesday and we need to back ourselves to hold it through several phases, even more.

“It’s really about getting the balance right: when to have a go and when not to; when to force it and when not to. Against a quality team like the Lions, you have to be patient.”