British and Irish Lions in talks to vaccinate all 37 players before South Africa tour

·3 min read
All matches on the Lions tour are set to go ahead behind closed doors - GETTY IMAGES
All matches on the Lions tour are set to go ahead behind closed doors - GETTY IMAGES

Talks are ongoing between the British and Irish and Lions and the UK Government to ensure that all 37 Lions players are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 before departing for South Africa.

Warren Gatland, the Lions head coach, revealed in April that he had already received his first vaccination, and having all players vaccinated would be a boost for the touring squad with South Africa reportedly on the brink of a third wave of coronavirus infections.

The tour will proceed without any supporters in stadiums, the Lions announced on Friday, after a revised itinerary for the eight-game tour was confirmed.

Restrictions on attendance at sports events by the South African government remain in place, with no date set for when those restrictions could be lifted, while the country is also on the UK Government's Covid-19 'red' list. "The UK government states that you should not travel to red list countries or territories for leisure purposes," noted the Lions.

Cases of Covid-19 in South Africa are currently on the rise, with the country reportedly on the brink of a third wave of infections. Even though the Lions and SA Rugby have not entirely given up hope that supporters may be able to attend matches, the prospect of having any spectators appears more unlikely than likely at this stage.

The potential lack of supporters will have a considerable financial impact for South Africa, with a study commissioned by SA Rugby last month estimating that the South African economy would lose 6.6 billion Rand - £331 million - if spectators are unable to attend any matches. Telegraph Sport understands that while some kind of profit could still be made from the Lions tour, financially breaking even is now the more likely outcome.

“We are hopeful that restrictions on attendance at sports events will be relaxed but, for the moment, we are planning for an event behind closed doors," said SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux.

All ticket holders for the original schedule will receive a full refund, while SA Rugby also confirmed that SA resident ticket holders would have first right to purchase tickets for the revised schedule if restrictions on attendance at sports events were lifted.

A decision is also yet to be made on how many supporters will be able to attend the Lions warm-up fixture at Murrayfield on June 26 against Japan, with any decision on crowd size made in line with the latest Scottish Government guidance.

The Lions' revised schedule in South Africa will now keep the touring side in either Gauteng - covering Johannesburg and Pretoria - or Cape Town throughout the eight-game tour.

Kick-off times have also been confirmed, with all three Test matches taking place at 5pm BST. Warm-up matches against the Sharks and South Africa 'A' will kick off at 7pm, with the remaining warm-up fixtures starting at 5pm.

In a change from the original schedule the tour will now begin with the British and Irish Lions facing the Emirates Lions, after the Lions were previously due to face an SA Invitiational XV.

The tourists will then face the Sharks and Bulls in Johannesburg and Pretoria before moving south to Cape Town to face South Africa 'A' and the Stormers in the final warm-up matches, ahead of the first Test in Cape Town against the Springboks. The second and third Tests will then be played back at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.