All but two British and Irish Lions players are likely to be available for a hastily arranged match against the Sharks on Saturday following new Covid-19 tests, according to Lions managing director Ben Calveley.
Speaking to journalists on Thursday, Calveley said a player who had tested “a very low level positive” on Wednesday had tested negative on Thursday.
The player will have to undergo another test on Friday and if he again tests negative, he and six close contacts will be available to be considered for Saturday’s match in Pretoria.
It was earlier announced that the Sharks had agreed to play a second match in four days against the Lions to replace a fixture against the Bulls, which was called off after several cases of Covid in the Bulls camp.
Coach Warren Gatland had to make eight changes in his match 23 for the first match against the Sharks after the unnamed player and a member of the management team tested positive.
Six players with close contacts of the player and two with contacts of the staff member had to go into isolation and were unavailable for Wednesday’s fixture.
Despite the late changes and the disrupted preparation, the Lions won 54-7. They have yet to face meaningful opposition in South Africa after beating the Johannesburg-based Lions 56-14 in their opening fixture last Saturday.
Calveley said the staff member had tested positive again on Thursday which meant the two close contacts had to remain in isolation.
Calveley said the Lions were determined to complete their tour.
“It is a challenge, I’m not going to sit here and say this is easy but we are absolutely determined to make it work and we have put measures in place to make it work,” he said.
“We want to play the matches so that we can prepare the side to be ready to take on the Springboks in the Test series and that was very much the driver behind the decision to go ahead on Saturday.”
Calveley said that at this stage there were no changes to the tour itinerary, apart from the Sharks replacing the Bulls as opponents on Saturday. But he said talks with SA Rugby about contingency plans were ongoing.
The replacement fixture against the Sharks will enable the Lions to try out further combinations ahead of their three-match Test series against the world champion Springboks, starting in Cape Town on July 24.
"The Lions are here to play rugby, not sit in bio-secure environments, so we have had to be nimble to find a replacement opponent," said SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux.
"The choice of the Sharks was dictated by the fact that they have been in a bubble, have returned negative tests throughout and were prepared to take on the fixture.”