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By Mark Gleeson
PRETORIA (Reuters) - British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland praised his squad for “rolling with the punches” before they head to Cape Town on Sunday for the second part of their disrupted South Africa tour with their next opponents uncertain.
Gatland, on his fourth Lions tour, agreed the last seven days -- which included a change of opponent and a COVID-19 scare in their camp -- had been the most chaotic week of his extensive coaching career, but said had been "pumped up" by the challenges.
“Certainly naming the team on the bus to the stadium was something new,” he quipped.
The tour was always going to be different to the normal boisterous Lions extravaganza, shorn of spectators and touring hordes and played in bio-secure bubbles in a country under severe lockdown amid a third wave of the novel coronavirus.
Yet it was disrupted further when the Lions were told their weekend opponents, the Bulls, were unable to field a team after several positive COVID-19 tests, before they had a scare themselves when one staff member tested positive and up to 12 players and staff were forced to self-isolate.
The Lions’ midweek match against the Sharks in Johannesburg was in doubt until two hours before kickoff, and then the Sharks were drafted in on Thursday to replace the Bulls in Saturday’s game in Pretoria for a second meeting in four days between the two teams.
“One of the things about the tour was that there was going to be some chaos and there has been chaos,” Gatland told a news conference after Saturday’s 71-31 win over their stand-in opponents.
“Adapting to that and making changes has kind of been our mantra and I thought we were able to handle that in the week. I see it as a positive, that anything that is thrown at us doesn’t upset us and that we are able to make decisions quickly.”
There is more uncertainty ahead in Cape Town, suggested Gatland.
“I think there is a good chance they’ll switch the Stormers and South Africa A games around but nothing has been confirmed yet. We’ve just got to roll with the punches really. The guys have been dealing with it fantastically and we’ve just got to go with the flow and react to whatever is thrown at us.”
The Lions are scheduled to play South Africa A on Wednesday but that team is being drawn from the 46-man Springbok camp, which is in self isolation after 12 reported COVID-19 cases.
The Stormers were next on the agenda on Saturday, July 17 but they could become the midweek opponents and might even play the Lions twice.
(Editing by Toby Davis)