The British and Irish Lions’ summer tour to South Africa has been plunged into fresh doubt just as the team is due to arrive in Johannesburg.
The country’s president Cyril Ramaphosa has warned of a “massive resurgence” in Covid-19, with cases on course to overtake the peak of 2020.
Three South Africa players tested positive over the weekend, just days before their first scheduled warm-up match against Georgia on Friday.
Ramaphosa has announced strict measures including a ban on all gatherings and a 9pm-4am curfew for the next two weeks.
The situation has revived debate about the wisdom of staging the three-Test series between the Lions and the Springboks, due to start on 24 July, at all.
At the very least, South Africa’s clash with Georgia faces renewed scrutiny in the wake of the postive tests from Vincent Koch, Sbu Nkosi and Herschel Jantjies.
The Lions are reported to be drawing up contingency plans in the event that some of their matches cannot be played.
Lions plans disrupted before departure
The Lions are due to play their first match of the tour, against the Emirates Lions, on Saturday in the country’s Gauteng region, was has been particularly badly hit by the pandemic.
South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has attempted to play down concerns that the Georgia match may be at risk.
“There are protocols we will follow, but I don’t think the Test match is in any way threatened,” Erasmus said. “I’m feeling confident about that.”
Lions head coach Warren Gatland faced last-minute disruption to his plans before they even set off on Sunday evening.
Captain Alun Wyn Jones dislocated a shoulder in Saturday’s win over Japan at Murrayfield, ruling him out of the tour.
Conor Murray has replaced Jones as skipper, while Adam Beard and Josh Navidi have joined the squad as injury cover.