Rugby-All 3 Lions tests now set for Cape Town in COVID-hit tour

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Tour match - Lions v British and Irish Lions
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By Mark Gleeson

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The British & Irish Lions will almost certainly play all three tests of their COVID-disrupted South Africa tour in Cape Town, dropping high-altitude Johannesburg as a venue as the virus continues to play havoc with their schedule.

Cape Town is already due to host the first test against the world champion Springboks on July 24, but the other two on July 31 and Aug. 7 were earmarked for Johannesburg.

"I'm pretty sure they'll be played in Cape Town (too)" coach Warren Gatland told a news conference on Friday, all but confirming a switch about which speculation has been rife.

Before that, the Lions also face another potential fixture swap next week.

They take on the Sharks in Pretoria on Saturday in their third tour match. They then head to Cape Town on Sunday, where they now look likely to stay for the rest of the tour.

Next week's fourth and fifth tour games there are currently respectively against South Africa A on Wednesday and the Stormers on Saturday week.

The South Africa A side - virtually a Springbok B team - will be drawn from the ranks of an expansive training camp that the host nation has been holding over the last month.

But with COVID-19 infections sweeping through the Boks this week, there is a plan to move that fixture to July 17 and bring the Stormers match forward, Gatland said.

He again embraced the challenge of a fluid tour situation in a country under strict lockdown and in the grip of a third wave of the virus's virulent Delta variant.

"It's a little bit difficult to plan too far ahead but ... you can only influence the things you can change and we've talked all along about being adaptable and we think we’ve done that successfully.

"We did it the other night," he said in a reference to Wednesday’s 54-7 win over the Sharks in match that was unsure of being played until two hours before kick off after the tourists reported the first COVID-positive test in their camp.

"The players fronted up to the most difficult circumstances after being locked in their rooms for eight hours," Gatland added.

(editing by John Stonestreet)

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