LIAM BOTHAM COLUMN, 9 JULY

Bok bubble bursts and rest of Lions Tour in jeopardy

The British & Irish Lions 2021 tour is on a knife’s edge after a spate of positive Covid-19 tests in the Springbok and Bulls camps plunged fixtures into disarray.

The Lions have completed two games of their South African tour with impressive wins, but there is no certainty now whether this tour will make it to games six, seven and eight — three Tests against the world champion Springboks.

The Springbok camp returned 11 positive Covid cases this week — five players and six members of management, including head coach Jacques Nienaber (headline photo). The Bulls, who were due to play the Lions at Loftus on Saturday, have returned four positive cases among the playing group, with one member of management also positive. That game has been postponed.

It’s almost certain that today’s second Test between the Boks and Georgia, scheduled for Ellis Park, will be cancelled. Four unnamed members of the Georgia team have also returned positive tests.

Jurie Roux, the CEO of SA Rugby, said: “The priority is to maintain the integrity of the Test series [against the Lions] and we will continue to focus on that.”

The question is: How did players who have been in the Boks’ so-called bio-secure environment test positive? Could there have been a Bio-bubble breach? It has been reported that security footage of the Boks’ movements is presently being studied, but whatever those reveal, it’s a shambles, really!

There is a possibility that the tour will be moved to Cape Town for the remaining matches, because the Gauteng province (Johanneburg, etc) remains the epicentre of a massive Covid-19 third wave, characterised by high recent infection rates.

The first test is scheduled for Cape Town’s Green Point Stadium on 24 July and the second and third Tests look increasingly likely to be staged at the same venue. I’ll be crossing fingers, with most other fans. Former England number 8 Nick Easter has expressed the view that the Springboks are ‘under-cooked and over-rated’. With respect to our South African readers, I’d like to see the Lions prove Easter’s statemenT

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PROUD MOMENTS:  My wife Lisa and I with Jimbo at the Principality Stadium.

PROUD MOMENTS:  My wife Lisa and I with Jimbo at the Principality Stadium.

Last weekend’s internationals in the UK yielded satisfactory results for the home teams.

England’s young side ran in seven tries for victory against USA and and there were some impressive individual showings among the new faces, including flyhalf, Marcus Smith. The 22-year-old played a key role in most of England’s tries, including a try of his own and an assist for Joe Cokanasiga.

Coach Eddie Jones commented: “I am certainly pleased with the way they handled it but there are bigger tests to come. They only got mild water poured over them today – we still have to wait and see [what happens] when it gets hot. We are training to help the development of the players to sort out who can handle the game at a higher level and who can’t.”

Ireland rallied to overcome a lively Japanese side by 39-31 after a thriller at the Aviva Stadium.

The visitors, coming off the back of a 28-10 defeat to The Lions, gave Andy Farrell plenty of headaches in the first half. But an improved second half showing gave Ireland the victory.

Liam Heagny of rugbypass.com pointed out that that Ireland was unable to offload more in the tackle – and this was evident in the statistic that highlighted Japan’s eleven offloads to Ireland’s four which is something for Farrell to mull over before this weekend’s game against the US Eagles.

Wales welcomed fans back to the Principality Stadium in style as their launched their summer international series with a 68-12 victory over Canada, and I was privileged to see my son Jimbo play live for the first time, and score a try. The overall experience was heart-warming and I look forward to tomorrow’s tough test against Argentina.

The Six Nations champions ran in 10 tries in total, although victory came at a cost after full-back Leigh Halfpenny’s 100th Test for Wales and the British and Irish Lions lasted just two minutes before he was carried off injured.

I happened to be in a suite on the grandstand with Leigh’s family, including his grandparents, who’d come to support him in his milestone match and I felt really sorry for them. I wish Leigh a speedy recovery, I hear his knee injury requires surgery, but he is a true professional and this setback won’t get him down!

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The second week of internationals in UK takes places tomorrow and, again, it will be great to see how the young players shape up. The British Lions tour has given the up-and-coming stars a chance to show their worth and I think a few of the established players will be shaken out of their comfort zones.

England will take on Canada at Twickenham. The most recent meeting between the two sides occurred during the 2004 autumn internationals when England won by 70 – 0.

Overall, England and Canada have faced each other on six occasions with England winning every match. We’ll see Eddie Jones experimenting with combinations among his young players again, and they should overpower the Canadians with little sweat.

Injured backs Chris Farrell and Jordan Larmour have been released from the Ireland camp before their Aviva Stadium game against the United States. The uncapped contingent including Robert Baloucoune, Caolin Blade, Harry Byrne, Tom Daly, James Hume and Michael Lowrey hope to get their chances to make their international debuts against the Eagles, who put up a fair showing last week against England.

Ireland have played the US twice in the last three years, winning 55-19 in New Jersey in 2017 and then 57-14 in Dublin in 2018. I foresee the US putting some pressure on in the first half like they did against England last week, but, similarly, Ireland should comfortably clinch it in the second half.

Wales are up against Argentina and here we have a proper rugby match, and I say that with all respect. The Pumas are a slick, powerful team and they’ve played together for a long time with notable successes over the two Southern Hemisphere Giants on the board in recent years.

Wales’s youngsters performed impressively last week and they will be better for it tomorrow – whether they’ll be strong enough in the absence of their established senior Lions Players only the game will show, and it will be fascinating.

I can tell you that Wales won’t go in lacking confidence. The youngsters know what they have to do and who they are up against. I will be at the match again and I look forward to seeing Jimbo in the starting line-up for his eighth Welsh cap.

My heart says Wales, my head says Argentina to win what should be a closely contested international. Again, I can’t wait for kick-off!  – IRC.

 

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