Springboks coach positive for virus, outbreaks in 3 teams

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber and four more of his players have tested positive for the coronavirus, while there were also outbreaks in the Georgia squad and in a South African domestic team that had been scheduled to play the British and Irish Lions this weekend.

SA Rugby announced Tuesday that the British and Irish Lions' game against the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday was postponed because of an outbreak in the Bulls squad, while South Africa's second test against Georgia scheduled for Friday in Johannesburg was “under review” by a medical advisory group put in place for the series in South Africa to deal with COVID-19 issues.

SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said that South Africa-Georgia game was “in serious doubt.”

The batch of positive tests in three separate rugby teams in South Africa casts more doubt on whether the British and Irish Lions tour should be going ahead amid a surge in cases in the country. The Lions appeared to have avoided the problems and haven't announced any cases.

Georgia is touring to play South Africa in two tests, which will act as warmups for the Springboks ahead of their three-test series against the Lions starting July 24.

Nienaber was one of six members of South Africa's team management to test positive in the latest round of testing, SA Rugby said. There were also new positive tests for prop Frans Malherbe, lock Marvin Orie, utility back Frans Steyn and flyhalf Handre Pollard. Four other South Africa players had already tested positive over the last 10 days, forcing the Springboks squad into isolation in its hotel in Johannesburg on two occasions.

The news that four Georgian players also tested positive confirmed an outbreak among both teams following their first test in Pretoria on Friday, which the Springboks won 40-9. Malherbe, Orie, Steyn and Pollard all played in that match. It was South Africa's first game since winning the Rugby World Cup two years ago after the pandemic wiped out the world champion's schedule last year.

Also, four Bulls players and a member of that team's management tested positive. SA Rugby said it would either re-schedule the British and Irish Lions vs. Bulls tour game or choose an alternative opponent for the Lions.

Roux said the cases were of the highly contagious delta virus variant first identified in India but which is now the dominant variant in South Africa and driving a winter wave of cases.

“These positive results are a setback and have underlined the danger of transmissibility of the delta variant,” Roux said. “The Springboks’ second test against Georgia is now in serious doubt, but we will wait for the MAG (medical advisory group) to consider the data."

A final decision on the Springboks-Georgia second test would be made Wednesday, Roux said.

SA Rugby said the British and Irish Lions' game against another South African domestic team, the Sharks, would go ahead as scheduled on Wednesday.

The British and Irish Lions tour comes, as was feared, in the midst of a devastating new wave of virus infections in South Africa, which went into stricter lockdown measures — on the day the Lions arrived last Monday — because of a spike in infections. South Africa recorded more than 26,000 new cases of the virus this past Saturday, the country’s highest daily total of the entire pandemic.

South Africa and the British and Irish Lions surprised many by deciding to go ahead with the Lions' six-week tour, where they will play eight games, including three tests against the Springboks. The tour was expected to be postponed or moved to another country because of the virus situation in South Africa.

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Gerald Imray, The Associated Press

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