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British and Irish Lions: Former WRU chairman questions credibility of South Africa tour

Louis Rees-Zammit of the British and Irish Lions and Bundee Aki of the British and Irish Lions tackling Manie Libbok
The Lions have won their two opening tour games in South Africa

Former Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) chairman Gareth Davies has raised concerns about the credibility of the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa.

This comes after the Lions announced they would play the Sharks again 72 hours after the tourists easily defeated the same opposition.

It is a decision former Lions fly-half Davies has described as a farce.

“In a way the credibility of the tour is in question,” Davies told S4C’s Newyddion programme.

The Lions intend to play the Sharks again on Saturday after their original opponents, the Bulls, pulled out of the game after positive Covid-19 tests.

Four Bulls players and a member of their backroom staff tested positive earlier this week.external-link

The Lions had reported two cases, but won with a makeshift side in midweek.

South Africa’s preparations for the three-Test series, which begins on 24 July, have also been disrupted with 12 Covid cases in the world champions’ camp causing their planned warm-up Test against Georgia to be cancelled.

“Playing the same team as last night (Wednesday) makes a farce of things really,” added Davies.

“They’ll be playing the Sharks second team because 10 of them are in the Springboks squad anyway. Had this been an international tour, it’s likely the tour would’ve been called off by now.

“Personally I don’t think they should play over the weekend, they should take a week off. And if anything, not play another game before the Tests because the Test series is what’s important.

“South Africa are in the same situation – they’ve played one game in two years, and they’ve also got [Covid] cases in the camp.

“So both teams would be starting from the same place and if that secures the well-being of the players, I would go towards that route.”

Gareth Davies played 21 times for Wales between 1978 and 1985 and toured with the British and Irish Lions in 1980
Gareth Davies played 21 times for Wales between 1978 and 1985 and toured South Africa with the British and Irish Lions in 1980

One player and one member of staff in the Lions camp tested positive on Wednesday. Both of them, and their close contacts, are self-isolating from the rest of the party.

The player, who returned a “weak” positive result initially, tested negative on Thursday and he and his close contacts will be available for selection if they do so again on Friday.

Lions managing director Ben Calveley outlined why playing matches was crucial for the tourists and insisted the Sharks game was rearranged for “rugby reasons”.

“We came into this country to play rugby matches, right, not to sit in bio-secure bubbles,” said Calveley.

“We want to play the matches so that we can prepare the side to be ready to take on the Springboks in a Test series.

“That was very much the driver behind the decision to go ahead on Saturday.

“The Sharks are the only side in the country that is able to meet the really strict protocols that exist – that is because they have already been living in a bubble.

“In terms of playing that number of games in a short period of time, that applies to us as well. We were already scheduled to play a fixture on Saturday.

“I can’t comment on the Sharks’ situation, but what I can say, from our side, we have fantastic medical and S+C (strength and conditioning) teams in place here.

“They work closely with the coaches and if there was any doubt from a player welfare standpoint the game shouldn’t proceed, it wouldn’t be happening.

“I am sure that is the case with the Sharks but I am not as close to their camp as I am the Lions.

“But we have been given assurances by the South African Rugby Union the match can proceed and the Sharks will be able to put a side out.”

Calveley also said the tourists were determined to ensure the three-Test series against South Africa, which starts on 24 July, will go ahead.

“We made the decision back in March we would make this tour work in South Africa which I believe to be the right decision,” added Calveley.

“We are determined to make it work and there are absolutely no plans to deviate from that strategy.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure the matches can go ahead.”

Article courtesy of BBC Sport
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