Rugby-Negative COVID tests allow Lions to ring the changes

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

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The British & Irish Lions touring party returned a negative set of COVID-19 tests on Friday allowing coach Warren Gatland to make 13 changes to the team facing the Sharks in Pretoria on Saturday after several days of disruption.

Hooker Jamie George will captain the Lions’ third game on their South Africa tour as they meet the Sharks for a second time in four days, having romped past them 54-7 in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

The Sharks are standing in for original opponents the Bulls after the Currie Cup champions suffered several COVID-19 infections and were left unable to field a team for Saturday’s game at Loftus Versfeld.

The Lions have had their own COVID scares with Wednesday’s game in doubt until two hours before kick off but on Friday they reported a virtual all clear. They had to leave eight players out of the original lineup in midweek over infection fears.

Only one management member, who tested positive on Wednesday, is a confirmed case and four close contacts (one player and three members of staff) are being isolated at the team hotel, the team said.

“It’s obviously been a slightly turbulent week, but we remain determined to keep rolling with the punches,” said Gatland in a statement on Friday.

“In many ways, the challenges we’ve faced this week have strengthened our resolve to do everything we can to overcome the challenges created by COVID.

“The feeling in the camp on Wednesday night was just to give it a crack - I was really proud of how everyone reacted, particularly the matchday squad who would have never prepared for a game like that before.

“Saturday is another opportunity to see how the boys go and for us as coaches to try out a few more combinations ahead of the test series,” the coach added.

Team:

15-Liam Williams, 14-Anthony Watson, 13-Elliot Daly, 12-Chris Harris, 11-Duhan van der Merwe, 10-Dan Biggar, 9-Gareth Davies, 8-Jack Conan, 7-Hamish Watson, 6-Tadhg Beirne, 5-Jonny Hill, 4-Maro Itoje, 3-Tadhg Furlong, 2-Jamie George (capt), 1- Rory Sutherland

Replacements: 16-Ken Owens, 17-Wyn Jones, 18-Kyle Sinckler, 19-Courtney Lawes, 20-Sam Simmonds, 21-Tom Curry, 22-Conor Murray, 23-Finn Russell

(Reporting by Mark Gleeson in Johannesburg; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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