SA Rugby will do its best to ensure British and Irish Lions tour goes on, says Bulls CEO
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JOHANNESBURG – SA Rugby have done, and will continue to do, everything in their power to ensure the integrity of the British and Irish Lions tour, CEO of the Blue Bulls Company, Edgar Rathbone, assured on Tuesday night.
Rathbone was speaking to the media after the Bulls’ tour match against the British and IrishI Lions was postponed due to the return of five positive Covid-19 Test. Along with the several positives recorded in both the Springbok and Georgia squads, also on Tuesday, the last 48 hours has thrown the rugby schedule into disarray and could possibly see that Test match on Friday cancelled.
"The overriding feeling is disappointment that the match couldn't take place now," Rathbone admitted, referring to the Bulls v B&I Lions match-up.
🚨 ANNOUNCEMENT 🚨— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) July 6, 2021
The Vodacom Bulls match against the British & Irish Lions scheduled for this Saturday is on hold due to COVID. There is a view to reschedule the match or to accommodate an alternative opponent.
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"Obviously, there is a bit of hope it will still happen. It's a once in a life-time match and we built a lot of our strategies, the jersey launch - everything was built around this match going back to 1997 (when the Bulls beat the B&I Lions). You can't plan for these things.
"I wouldn't say the players' stress levels aren't high, they still have a job to do on the rugby field and they will get that opportunity."
The Bulls are still hoping to face the tourists, despite this latest set-back, with the plan to play the B&I Lions on Tuesday, June 20; only a handful of days before the first Test match between the Boks and the visitors. As explained by Rathbone, it will take a minimum of 17 days for those affected within the squad - including one medical staff member - to return from self-isolation.
Despite that extended stay away, Rathbone reasoned that the Bulls would be able to field a team if the match was to be reinstated as the squad consists of 45 players. Due to the fluid nature of the outbreak, it is possible that more tests will return positive in the days to come, and put paid to any attempt to play the match.
Rathbone also revealed, without mentioning names, that "one, or two" players were suffering from mild symptoms, while the rest were currently asymptomatic. All the players have been vaccinated but as expected the inoculation has not guarded from infection, and only the seriousness of the illness.
🚨 BREAKING: @lionsofficial v @BlueBullsRugby match postponed; Boks’ second Test against @GeorgianRugby being reviewed— Springboks (@Springboks) July 6, 2021
🗣️ "The priority is to maintain the integrity of the Test series"
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Rathbone was also at pains to insist that SA Rugby and the Bulls had done everything within their power to ensure the safety of their players, and that the chief administrative body for the sport in the country has laboured tirelessly to ensure that the game and tour go ahead, despite the extremely testing times.
"The bubble was initially planned for 10 days and it was changed to five days," Rathbone said.
"Five days, in effect, is efficient. The guys tested positive on Saturday already - two guys - so even if you were in a bubble the effects might have been even worse. It's a balancing act," adding that the players' well-being was of paramount importance.
"The amount of work that has gone in," Rathbone said, "just from SA Rugby's side to make this tour happen, is unbelievable."
"You can't really fault them on that. I don't think anybody could really have planned for this delta variant and how contagious it has been ... It has been impeccable in this very trying time.
The B&I Lions are still scheduled to play the Sharks on Wednesday night at Emirates Airline Park. That match kicks off at 6pm in line with the level 4 lockdown rules and regulations.