The Springboks will resume training on Sunday in preparation for the Lions Series after six rounds of COVID-19 testing and a six-day preventative self-isolation period cleared a large group of players to return to the field.
All the players and management who had COVID-19 Tests on Saturday returned negative test results, which paved the way for the players to train on Sunday.
Four rounds of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing in the last week delivered new positive cases among the players and three among the team management.
The players who tested positive were Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, Dan du Preez, Ox Nché, Bongi Mbonambi, Scarra Ntubeni and Makazole Mapimpi.
With the entire squad and management team confined to their rooms since Monday, however, the possibility of transmission through close contact has been mitigated.
With two hookers and props among the positive COVID-19 test results and all the players who tested positive expected to follow strict return-to-play protocols, Sharks hooker Fez Mbatha and Bulls prop Lizo Gqoboka have been drafted into the squad as cover.
SA Rugby Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus will take the lead at the field training sessions with assistant coaches Mzwandile Stick, Daan Human and Deon Davids while Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber continues his self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday.
“We are delighted to be able to return to the field and resume our preparations for th Lions Series,” said Nienaber, who was in good spirits despite being in self-isolation. “It has been a challenging week with the Test against Georgia cancelled and the entire squad self-isolating for a few days as a preventative measure, so the players cannot wait to get back on the park.
“The Test against Georgia was important for us with an eye on preparing to face the British & Irish Lions, but these are extraordinary times and we have to adapt as a team, and I have to commend the players and management for that.”
Nienaber had no doubt the side was in good hands in his absence and said: “We are a tight-knit coaching team and everyone takes responsibility in their respective roles.
“It is also great to have Rassie [Erasmus] steering the ship while I am away. He has been part of the system for several years now and he guided most of these players to the Rugby World Cup title in 2019, so the team is in great hands.”
The South Africa ‘A’ team is scheduled to face the British & Irish Lions in Cape Town on Wednesday, 14 July.
This will be followed by three Test matches against the visitors in the historic series on Saturday, 24 and 31 July, and 7 August respectively.
Although this is good news for the Boks, it’s clear they have faced unprecedented challenges in attempting to contain a Covid-19 outbreak within their camp that has thrown preparations for the Lions series into disarray.
For the past week, the Boks have been struggling to contain the Covid-19 outbreak within their camp after their bio bubble was compromised.
Meanwhile the Lions will be travel to Cape Town but coach Gatland confirmed they’ll be “leaving behind one player and four staff members after a positive Covid test”.
What we know so far:
- SA Rugby initially reported more than 10 positive cases in the Bok camp, with four additional positive tests among Springbok players after Lood de Jager had first returned a positive test.
- As a result, the second Test against Georgia had been called off.
- The Georgians also had four positive cases.
- While it was believed the Boks’ bio-bubble had been compromised, team officials confirmed that video footage showed the Boks didn’t violate restrictions.
- The Boks’ bio-bubble has since been tightened with more stringent and secure measures put in place.
- The team had been unable to train for the past seven days.
- With players having to be quarantined for at least 10 days after a positive test, it was feared that a return to action could take up to 17 days, because electrocardiograms and other cardiac-related tests must first be passed to ensure that there has been no serious damage to the heart and lungs.
- Lukhanyo Am has been singled out as the front-runner to take over the captaincy if Kolisi is unavailable for selection.
- However, it was then confirmed on Sunday that the Boks had been cleared to return to training.
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