By Mark Gleeson
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The British & Irish Lions will play back-to-back matches against South Africa’s Sharks to replace Saturday’s postponed fixture against the Bulls, who have been hit hard by COVID-19, SA Rugby said on Thursday.
The Lions beat the Sharks 54-7 in Johannesburg on Wednesday and will now play them again on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, where they had been originally fixtured to take on the Currie Cup champions.
Several positive COVID cases in the Bulls camp at the start of the week led to the postponement of the match because the Bulls were unable to field a team.
"The Lions are here to play rugby, not sit in bio-secure environments so we have had to be nimble to find a replacement opponent," said SA Rugby chief executive officer Jurie Roux in a statement on Thursday.
"The choice of the Sharks was dictated by the fact that they have been in a bubble, have returned negative tests throughout and were prepared to take on the fixture.
"No other team in the country could meet those conditions right now – without going into a five-day lockdown. It is not an ideal situation, but COVID-19 has made sure that we do not live in an ideal world."
The Sharks were to play on Saturday, anyway, against the Gauteng Lions in a Currie Cup fixture but that has been postponed to a later date.
The touring Lions were doubtful for Wednesday’s match until around two hours before kick off after two positive cases in their camp. They have 12 players and staff in self isolation and were due for further testing on Thursday and Friday.
"The results of those tests will determine whether we will be able fulfil this fixture, but, as it stands, we are optimistic," said Lions managing director Ben Calveley.
COVID-19 infections are rampant as a third wave hits South Africa, which has been placed under lockdown. Cases also forced the cancellation of South Africa’s warm-up test against Georgia on Friday.
(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)