By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) -South Africa’s rugby team will resume training on Sunday ahead of a three-test series against the British & Irish Lions, after six rounds of COVID-19 testing and a six-day preventative self-isolation period cleared a large group of players to return to the field, SA Rugby said on Sunday.
But captain Siya Kolisi, coach Jacques Nienaber and 12 other players who tested positive in the week are still in isolation and could miss the first test in Cape Town on July 24.
“With the entire squad and management team confined to their rooms since Monday, however, the possibility of transmission through close contact has been mitigated,” a statement said.
Along with Kolisi, loose forward Dan du Preez, prop Ox Nche, hookers Bongi Mbonambi and Scarra Ntubeni and wing Makazole Mapimpi all tested positive this weekend, adding to a number of players who contracted the virus last weekend.
Flyhalf Handre Pollard had previously been named among those who returned positive tests along with Lood de Jager, Vincent Koch, Frans Malherbe, S’bu Nkosi, Marvin Orie and Frans Steyn.
Those positive tests, as well as for several members of team management, led to Friday's warm-up test against Georgia being cancelled.
All the players who tested positive are expected to follow strict return-to-play protocols, SA Rugby said. This leaves them in doubt for the first test.
With two hookers and props among the positive COVID-19 test results, Sharks hooker Fez Mbatha and Bulls prop Lizo Gqoboka have been drafted into the 46-man squad as cover, while SA Rugby Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus will take charge of training while Nienaber continues to self-isolate after testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday.
“We are delighted to be able to return to the field and resume our preparations for the Lions series,” said Nienaber, who SA Rugby said was in good spirits despite being in self-isolation.
“It has been a challenging week with the test against Georgia cancelled and the entire squad self-isolating for a few days as a preventative measure, so the players cannot wait to get back on the park.
“The test against Georgia was important for us with an eye on preparing to face the British & Irish Lions, but these are extraordinary times and we have to adapt as a team,” the statement quoted him as saying.
(Editing by Christian Radnedge)