Jamie George captains Lions in 'Plan B' game vs Sharks

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — England hooker Jamie George will captain the British and Irish Lions in their second straight game against the Sharks on Saturday after the Lions' planned opponents couldn't fulfil the South Africa tour fixture because of coronavirus cases.

The Lions were due to play the Bulls in Pretoria but SA Rugby announced this week that Bulls players and backroom staff tested positive. Because of the need to isolate them and other members of the squad who they came into contact with, the Bulls weren't able to field a team.

So the Lions, who beat the Sharks comprehensively in Johannesburg on Wednesday, will play them again in Pretoria in what was announced as plan B. The Sharks have been in a bubble and have returned negative virus tests, SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said, meaning they were available to step in.

The Lions made 13 changes to the starting team that beat the Sharks 54-7 first time around, with only Scotland's Duhan van der Merwe at left wing and England's Elliot Daly at center retained.

Dan Biggar is at flyhalf and Gareth Davies at scrumhalf in an all-Welsh halfback pairing.

Liam Williams, another Wales player, is at fullback and England's Anthony Watson is on the other wing.

Those four were meant to play in the first Sharks game but were dropped from the team after the Lions announced two positive tests in their touring party — an unnamed player and a member of the management team — and also had to isolate squad members. The player has subsequently been cleared after returning two negative tests.

“It’s obviously been a slightly turbulent week but we remain determined to keep rolling with the punches,” Lions coach Warren Gatland said. “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.”

George is the third different captain for the Lions in their three tour games so far in South Africa.

English pair Maro Itoje and Jonny Hill will combine in the second row and impressive Scotland flanker Hamish Watson starts at No. 7. Tour captain Conor Murray is on the bench.

The Lions tour moves to Cape Town next week for two more warmup games before the first test against the Springboks on July 24.

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British and Irish Lions: Liam Williams, Antony Watson, Elliot Daly, Chris Harris, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Jack Conan, Hamish Watson, Tadhg Beirne, Jonny Hill, Maro Itoje, Tadhg Furlong, Jamie George (captain), Rory Sutherland. Reserves: Ken Owens, Wyn Jones, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, Sam Simmonds, Tom Curry, Conor Murray, Finn Russell.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

The Associated Press

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