Erasmus optimistic of Boks’ readiness for Lions series

Rassie Erasmus is confident the Springboks will be able to field a strong lineup and be ready for the intensity of the first Test against the British & Irish Lions despite their camp being affected by Covid-19.

Erasmus was speaking after naming a fairly strong match-day 23 for the South Africa A game against the Lions on Wednesday evening in Cape Town.

The director of rugby has had to take a hands-on role in coaching the team this week as head coach Jacques Nienaber is among those who remained in isolation in Johannesburg after testing positive for Covid-19 as a widespread outbreak spread through the team camp.

The SA A team will be captained by Lukhanyo Am, as Bok captain Siya Kolisi is also among the players who  were confirmed by SA Rugby to have tested positive.

The Springboks essentially lost both their second Test match against Georgia and a week’s worth of training due to the spread of the virus. The team was only cleared to resume training this past Sunday.

Despite this, Erasmus is confident that most of the positive cases would return in time for the Springboks’ first Test against the Lions next Saturday.

“There is the return-to-train and return-to-play protocol which we follow in South Africa,” Erasmus explained. “Depending on when they got the results – not the infection but the actual positive result – that determines whether they can play or not.

“Some of them definitely will be available from that Wednesday and some are available on the Thursday before the Test match. Our head coach and assistant coach are available and will fly back this Wednesday and join us this Wednesday. Currently myself, Daan Human, Mzwandile Stick and Deon Davids are with the team. Two of our physios are still in quarantine in Johannesburg. One of our nutritionists is still that side and Jacques is still that side. One of our players is actually a false positive and he is actually driving down from Joburg.

“There are challenging things, but the team we put out on the park will be the best Springbok team. Yes, a guy like Siya and a few others – Frans Steyn, Handre Pollard – those guys who tested positive really early might make it. Some guys, you know, can just slot in, and some guys take a bit longer and need a few days to get the engines going. So some will slot in immediately and it will be touch and go and other guys will be ready for the second and third match.”

Erasmus said in the online media conference that SA Rugby was trying to negotiate for another Test against the Lions on Saturday, to make up for their lost match against Georgia.

He explained that even though the Springboks have had to spend a week in isolation, they will still be match-fitch and ready for the intensity of a Lions series.

“I think it’s realistic. Some of the guys came from the Premiership and went into our camp in Bloemfontein, where we really had good intensity. At that stage, we had two Test matches and a SA A game to be ready for the Lions. That was the plan. Some guys came from Currie Cup rugby, some guys came from playing a final for Toulouse, there were guys who played PRO14 and obviously there were guys who had injuries, like Damian and RG. So, there were different scenarios with different guys.

“If we played Georgia twice and the SA A game, we couldn’t ask for more to get the guys match fit. You also want to let them have a bit of a break and a buildup. So we actually just lost one week of training and one match.

“So, if we do manage to get that match back on Saturday, then actually what we have lost is seven days of sitting in a hotel room. I think the 10 guys who isolated will tell you, you don’t got to pieces and totally out of shape in those seven days. So, we will be OK. It’s a three-match Test series. There will be injuries on both sides after the SA A game. But the Lions have also had cases and close contacts. That’s why we don’t want to sit here and make excuses. We will deal with it. ”

Erasmus added that there was nothing more that could have been done to limit the spread of coronavirus through the Bok camp.

“Without going into detail, I will sum it up. The first one was when it was just us in Bloemfontein for three weeks and we didn’t have a case. When we then got the guys in from all over the world, on that Sunday before the first Georgia Test match, we had one positive case, which was RG Snyman. He had burns and he was going to the specialist and was moving out of our camp. We didn’t have any other positive cases until we played Georgia.

“After the Georgia Test match, we got all the positive cases. I can promise you that nobody went out of our hotel room, nobody was allowed to go out. It’s not always easy to control getting three or four different teams into your set-up. No matter what they do there are different players and different circumstances. From our side, I am fairly confident that up until that Test match, we were doing fairly well. After that we had a few cases, but we managed that now and have 34 fit players.

“There’s a lot of sacrifices the players made in terms of partners not coming in and if your partner comes in, there is a strict protocol where it’s almost 10 days quarantine. You can’t see them until the 11th day. We are desperate to play these Test matches and I am really confident that none of the players or management were at fault for this.”

Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images

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Dylan Jack