Jacques Nienaber confident over Lions tour despite coronavirus resurgence

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South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber is confident this summer’s Test series against the British and Irish Lions will go ahead as planned.

Questions have been raised over the viability of the tour with South Africa experiencing a third wave of Covid-19 infections.

The Springboks themselves have been affected, with three players testing positive and the entire squad consequently having to isolate as a precaution over the weekend.

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“I can’t see the tour will be in jeopardy,” said Nienaber at a press conference.

“From a rugby side they really look after our safety and there are good protocols in place.

“We make sure we adhere to that to make sure the squad is safe and the integrity of the tournament is safe.

“There is not a player that doesn’t want to to participate in this tour because it is such a special tour. It only comes around maybe once every 12 years and you would be lucky as a Springbok to participate in it once in your career.

“So everyone is trying their best to stay virus-free, Covid-free, to stay within the boundaries. I don’t think you can completely take away all risks but the precautions the people have taken to keep us as safe as possible are magical.

“We are operating as normal within our environment, or as normal as it can be.”

The majority of the Springboks squad were cleared to resume training on Monday and will step up preparations for the three-match Lions series with the first of two games against Georgia on Friday.

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Two of the positive cases, Saracens prop Vincent Koch and winger Sbu Nkosi, are unavailable but the third, fly-half Herschel Jantjies, was cleared to return to activity and will be on the bench.

Two further players, wing Makazole Mapimpi and centre Lukhanyo Am, have been ruled out having been identified as close contacts.

Nienaber said: “We picked the side but didn’t announce the team on Saturday-Sunday when we had the Covid issues.

“I don’t want to go into too much detail and specifics but we want to be as transparent as possible. The only two guys that really got influenced were Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am. They were close contacts and went into isolation immediately.”

Friday’s match in Pretoria will be South Africa’s first since winning the World Cup in 2019 and Nienaber’s first since being appointed coach last year.

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Nienaber said: “It is awesome. My announcement as coach was so long ago it almost felt as if it was never going to happen.

“I’m super excited it’s actually here and we’re just a couple of days away from playing our first Test match in a very long time.”

Nienaber’s side for Georgia will feature two debutants in backs Rosko Specman and Aphelele Fassi, with a third uncapped player in forward Jasper Wiese among the substitutes.

The Lions flew to South Africa on Sunday and face the Emirates Lions in their first match of an eight-game tour in Johannesburg on Saturday.

The first Test against the Springboks takes place in Cape Town on July 24.

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