British and Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones is "fit and raring to go" for Saturday's first Test against South Africa, according to defence coach Steve Tandy.

Jones, the most-capped international of all time with 158 appearances for Wales and the Lions, was initially ruled out of the tour after dislocating his shoulder against Japan on June 26.

However, the 35-year-old has made a remarkable comeback and played 30 minutes off the bench in the 49-3 victory against Stormers at the weekend.

That win, on what was Jones' 22nd appearance for the Lions, ensured Warren Gatland's side avoided losing two successive non-Test matches since a three-game streak in New Zealand in 1993

After coming through that match unscathed, Jones in contention to start this week's much-anticipated showdown with reigning world champions South Africa in Cape Town.

Asked if Jones – one of only four players selected to play on four Lions tours – has enough minutes under his belt to return to the starting line-up, Tandy said: "I believe so.

"Al historically does some pretty special things. He is fit, he is raring to go. He keeps himself in great shape, so there will be no issues there.

"He has got unbelievable experience. His leadership qualities are outstanding as well. He will be fine."

 

The Lions have won five of their six warm-up fixtures ahead of the three-match series with the Springboks, the exception being a 17-13 loss to South Africa A last week.

Fly-half Finn Russell is the Lions' only unavailable player for the series opener due to an Achilles issue, leaving Gatland and his coaching staff with some big selection calls.

Following a meeting that lasted more than an hour and a half on Sunday, Tandy revealed the Lions' XV for the first Test is now as good as selected.

"It is one of the toughest things I have been involved in," Tandy said. "So many players put their hands up. There will be massive decisions made and a lot of unlucky players.

"We had the initial selection meeting last night and it was a long one in fairness. There was robust discussion, but now there are just one or two things to confirm. It is mostly done.

"There will be bitter disappointment for some players, but everyone will be geared up to win the first Test and those not playing will support the team."

Head coach Mark Boucher will hope to rouse his South Africa side for this week's T20I series against Ireland, conceding a lengthy limited stint away from home has taken its toll.

The Proteas diced with humiliation in the ODI rubber, as Ireland beat them in the 50-over format for the first time before centuries from Janneman Malan and Quinton de Kock secured a 70-run win in the third match to snatch a 1-1 series draw.

South Africa moved from one bio-secure bubble to another, following their 3-2 T20I victory in the West Indies with the trip to Ireland, and those obligations have taken place amid a slew of awful news from back home.

A third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has gripped South Africa, while Boucher's players wore black armbands for the third ODI to show solidarity with those affected by mounting scenes of violence.

"We weren't there the other day," Boucher said of the 43-run defeat to Ireland, as quoted by ESPNCricinfo. "Our awareness was down; our intensity was down.

"We looked at quite a few things without making excuses. We had a long chat after the game and we said, 'Guys we are in a position where we can't afford to make excuses. You are playing for your country and you have to be up every game'."

South Africa only have these games – Monday's match at Malahide before back-to-back games in Belfast - and three more versus Sri Lanka before the T20 World Cup gets underway in Oman in October, not an ideal situation given a devilish Group 1 draw alongside England, Australia and West Indies.

However, if Boucher's players were to complain about being under-cooked, they would have few grounds for complaint alongside Ireland.

Andy Balbirnie's side have not played a T20I since last March, with proposed series against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, New Zealand and Pakistan falling foul of the pandemic.

Five matches against Zimbabwe follow this series before Ireland enter the Group A qualifier section alongside Sri Lanka, Namibia and the Netherlands at the T20 World Cup, from which two teams progress.

Shamsi looking to consolidate number one status

Irrespective of how ideal or otherwise their preparations have been, South Africa have their T20 World Cup trump card in Tabraiz Shamsi. The left-arm wrist spinner is ranked as the number one bowler in the world in the shortest international format and his economy rate of 6.5 since the beginning of 2020 is the best of anyone to have bowled in 10 or more innings.

 

O'Brien hoping to regain form alongside old ally Stirling

Ireland's main threat in the shortest format often comes from Paul Stirling and Kevin O'Brien at the top of the order. The veteran O'Brien is one of his country's finest ever players but he did not feature in the recent series against South Africa, having retired from ODIs. His final four knocks in the format were two, one, one and nought and the 37-year-old will hope to put that slump behind him.

Key Opta facts
- This will be the first bilateral men's T20I game between Ireland and South Africa. Ireland will be South Africa's 13th opposition in the format, while the Proteas will be their hosts' 24th.
- South Africa have dropped 29 chances since the beginning of 2020 in T20I cricket, the most of all Test playing nations during this time. Ireland have dropped the fewest (five), although they’ve also played the joint fewest such matches of any Test playing nation.
- Ireland have hit a boundary once every 3.7 balls in T20 powerplays since the beginning of 2020, the most frequent of any Test playing country in that time.
- De Kock has hit 31 sixes in T20Is since the start of 2020. Only Martin Guptill and Evin Lewis (both 34) have struck more.
- Balbirnie requires 55 more runs to become the fifth Irish batsman to score 1,000 runs in T20Is in just his 40th innings. He is set to surpass Stirling's Ireland best mark of reaching the landmark in 45 knocks.

The first two athletes to test positive for coronavirus in Tokyo's Olympic Village have been confirmed as members of South Africa's men's football team.

Games organisers announced in their daily update on Sunday that there had been 10 positive cases in the latest round of testing, taking the overall total this month to 55.

That includes three individuals based in the athletes' village, with an event official previously testing positive on Saturday.

The South African Football Association released a statement later on Sunday confirming Thabiso Monyane and Kamohelo Mahlatsi were the pair to return positive tests.

Orlando Pirates right-back Monyane and Moroka Swallows attacking midfielder Mahlatsi, plus video analyst Mario Masha, will now isolate in a hotel room for 14 days.

A fourth South African participant, rugby sevens coach Neil Powell, also produced a positive result. All four individuals tested negative before flying to Japan this week.

Team South Africa chief medical officer Dr Phatho Zondi said in a statement: "Every member of Team South Africa required full medical clearance as an eligibility criteria. 

"In addition, they were encouraged to isolate for two weeks pre-departure, monitor health daily, report any symptoms, and produce two negative nasopharyngeal PCR tests taken within 96 hours of departure, as per Tokyo 2020 requirements.

"The timing of the positive results suggests that the PCR test in these individuals was done during the incubation period of the infection, which is how they could be negative in South Africa and then positive in Japan. 

"They are now in isolation where they will continue to be monitored and will not be allowed to train or have any physical contact with the rest of the squad."

South Africa are scheduled to face tournament hosts Japan in their opening Group A game next Thursday, before taking on France and Mexico on July 25 and July 28 respectively.

Sunday's news of two athletes testing positive for COVID-19 inside the athletes' village will raise further concerns over the Olympics going ahead as planned.

The 2020 Games, already delayed by a year due to the global health pandemic, officially begins on Friday and will be held mostly without spectators due to a state of emergency being declared in Tokyo.

Infection rates in the Japanese capital have topped 1,000 for four days running.

Around 11,000 athletes from 205 national Olympic committees are expected to stay at the village over the next three weeks.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach reiterated on Saturday that the first positive case posed no risk to the Japanese population.

"We are well aware of the scepticism a number of people have here in Japan," he added at a news conference. "My appeal to the Japanese people is to welcome the athletes for their competitions."

South Africa have confirmed Bongi Mbonambi, Scarra Ntubeni and Dan du Preez have been cleared to link up with the squad after completing their mandatory self-isolation period following positive COVID-19 tests results.

The trio were forced to sit out South Africa A's victory over the British and Irish Lions on Wednesday, as well as the shock 17-14 defeat to the Bulls at Cape Town Stadium.

With six days to go until the series opener against the Lions in Cape Town, all three players have been cleared to resume training with their team-mates.

South Africa had not played a Test match in 20 months prior to beating Georgia two weeks ago, and Kwagga Smith accepts there is a lot of work ahead for the reigning world champions.

"We haven't played Test matches in almost two years, so we got together and started working on it in the last three games and we can now analyse that," he told SA Rugby's official website.

"We need to use our opportunities because in Test matches there aren't many of them, so we have to convert them into points, and we have to sharpen up and get into our system and enforce it onto them."

The majority of the Boks' fringe players failed to impress in the defeat to Bulls, whereas the Lions flexed their muscles with a 49-3 win over the Stormers in their final warm-up match.

Cobus Reinach, one of the rare shining lights for South Africa on Saturday, agrees with Smith that a big improvement is needed if his side are to stop Warren Gatland's men.

"We left a lot of opportunities on the park, but that is something for us to look at, and each one of us has to look at our performance," he said.

"We can improve, and we have to ensure that we do better when we find ourselves in a similar situation. We are aligned as a squad and we know what we have to do.

"We need to execute what we want to do at a platinum standard, and everyone just needs to do their job and make sure they do it well.

"Collectively we didn’t put our stamp down, but we can fix that, and we are feeling confident going forward."

Janneman Malan and Quinton de Kock both hit centuries as South Africa sealed a 70-run win over Ireland on Friday, tying the ODI series at 1-1.

Ireland enjoyed a famous first ever win over South Africa in international cricket last time out, with captain Andy Balbirnie playing a starring role with a knock of 102.

But they were unable to follow that up by clinching what would have been a maiden series triumph over a top-eight ranked team, as the Proteas this time managed to meet expectations by posting 346-4.

The opening partnership of Malan (177 not out) and De Kock (120) set the tone, with each recording impressive knocks. The latter was returning to action after being rested for the previous outings on the tour.

Ireland eventually ended the stand at 225 in the 37th over when De Kock was dismissed by Simi Singh (1-52), but South Africa piled on 100 runs in the final 10 overs to set a significant total.

Ireland were given a mountain to climb in reply after losing Paul Stirling and Balbirnie inside the first four overs. Andy McBrine also fell in the powerplay, while Harry Tector, George Dockrell and Lorcan Tucker departed in quick succession to suddenly leave the score at 92-6.

South Africa-born all-rounder Curtis Campher made 54 but it was Singh who was the star performer with the bat for the hosts, making a maiden ODI century.

He would end up unbeaten on exactly 100 from 91 deliveries as Ireland were bowled out for 276 at the start of the 48th over. Andile Phehlukwayo and Tabraiz Shamsi both claimed three wickets apiece for the Proteas.

 

Malan's the man

The pressure was on South Africa here after a disappointing showing last time, yet Malan – who was by no means in poor form after hitting 84 last time out – looked in control almost throughout. He had few near-misses en route to the best score of his seven-match international career, this his second ton in the 50-over format.

Singh on song

While Ireland's bowlers gave the batsmen too much work to do, Singh provided some positivity towards the end of the innings – without his efforts, it could have been a particularly ugly defeat. His knock included 14 boundaries, and he managed to reach three figures before running out of partners.

Alun Wyn Jones is "monumental" for the British and Irish Lions, according to former South Africa wing Bryan Habana.

Jones, the most-capped player of all time with 157 international appearances across his career with Wales and the Lions, has made a remarkable comeback to return to the Lions' squad for their tour of South Africa.

The 35-year-old suffered a dislocated shoulder in a pre-tour match against Japan in Edinburgh and did not travel with Warren Gatland's squad and seemed unlikely to be able to feature in the three-match Test series against the Springboks.

Yet he has made a rapid recovery and will link up with the Lions ahead of Saturday's game with the Stormers.

Jones will be on the bench for that match, putting him firmly in contention for a start in the first Test against the reigning world champions on July 24.

Habana represented South Africa against the Lions in 2009, helping the Springboks to a series victory, and he believes Jones is not only an inspiration to Gatland's team, but to all athletes who aim to draw out their careers.

"It's monumental," Habana told Stats Perform. "All of under-40s, recently retired players, are sort of vicariously living through what he has become in terms of an iconic figure.

"It's astounding, mind-blowing, to think how far he's come over the course of the last 14-15 years since making his debut, that he's still able to produce efforts on a weekly basis that warrant not only his selection in the squad, but warrant his selection as captain of a prestigious side like the Lions.

 

"All of us around the world have an immense amount of respect for him. To go on and break Richie McCaw's Test cap record, but do it in a manner in which people still advocate for him being involved in the side, it tells you the status of the man.

 

"And I, having played the game, not remotely physically as close to what Alun has been doing in the forwards, just have a huge amount of respect for what he's achieved for the game, the manner in which he has played the game, but [also] the respect that he commands both from his own team-mates and from opposition."

The Lions perhaps missed Jones' leadership as they suffered their first defeat in eight matches on Wednesday.

A South Africa A side littered with 2019 World Cup winners won 17-13 in Cape Town, with the Lions losing for the first time in the city since 1980.

It was the lowest points tally the Lions have managed in a game since their 12-3 win over the Crusaders in the third match of their 2017 tour of New Zealand.


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British and Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones will start on the bench against the Stormers on Saturday following his remarkable recovery from a dislocated shoulder.

Jones suffered the injury in a pre-tour match against Japan and was expected to miss the series against South Africa.

However, coach Warren Gatland confirmed at the start of the week that the most-capped player of all time was to be back in contention for the Lions when their three-Test series against the Springboks starts on July 24.

That will be two days shy of a month since sustaining the initial injury, though he could be in action even before that, highlighting the incredible nature of his recovery.

The Lions will face the Stormers in Cape Town, and while Stuart Hogg is to wear the armband after completing a period of isolation, Jones will be available from the bench.

Gatland said: "It's an important game as it's the final chance for the coaching group to see the players perform prior to the start of the Test series.

"For the matchday 23 it's their last opportunity to stake a claim for a Test place, so I expect to see a highly motivated group of players.

"It is particularly pleasing to be able to name Stuart Hogg in the squad. He's not had much luck on Lions tours to date, so it'll be great to see him cross the whitewash again with the captain's armband."

Robbie Henshaw comes into the midfield after shaking off a hamstring injury and Josh Adams returns after the birth of his daughter saw him ruled out of Wednesday's narrow defeat to South Africa A.

Marcus Smith, who recently won his first England cap, will debut at fly-half, and Gatland is particularly excited to see the Harlequins talent in action.

"I'm delighted that Marcus will get his first start in a Lions jersey," Gatland said. "I've been really impressed with his attitude since coming into camp this week; he's been like a sponge for information.

"Obviously it's a tight turnaround from Wednesday's game but we’re in pretty good shape. The South Africa 'A' game was a physical encounter – we always knew it would be – but we've come out of it pretty much intact and ready to go again."

Maro Itoje is looking forward to the competition Alun Wyn Jones will provide when he returns to the British and Irish Lions squad.

Jones, who was initially named as the tour captain, suffered a dislocated shoulder in a pre-tour match against Japan and was expected to miss the series against South Africa.

However, the most-capped player of all time will be back in contention for the Lions when their three-Test series against the Springboks starts on July 24.

England lock Itoje played and impressed on Wednesday, as the Lions failed to battle back against a South Africa A team littered with 2019 Rugby World Cup winners, suffering their first defeat in eight games in the process.

Though he will be competing with Jones for a place in Warren Gatland's team, Itoje is relishing the prospect of playing alongside the Wales star.

"He's a man of immeasurable experience, he is the most capped player in the history of rugby. He is going to add his experience, add his clout and add his edge," Itoje told Sky Sports.

"To be honest, I want the competition, I want the best team available and I want to compete. Those kind of decisions are not up to me, they're up to the man who gets paid the big bucks, Warren, so I'll leave that to him."

 

The Lions went down 17-13 in Cape Town, with their points tally their fewest in a match since a 12-3 win against the Crusaders in the 2017 tour of New Zealand.

Gatland's team came into the game having scored 50 points or more in three successive games – the first time they had managed such a run in their history. In fact, only on three previous tours have they scored a half-century of points in more than three games (1959, 1974, 1997).

Despite Wednesday's loss, Gatland is still confident his team can go on to defeat the world champions, who have played just one Test since beating England back in 2019.

"They came pretty hard at us in the first half. I was really pleased with the way we got back into the game and how strong we looked in the second half," the former Wales coach told Sky Sports.

"We stayed in the battle. That was the pleasing thing. The guys in the changing room are saying there is no reason why we can't win the series."

The British and Irish Lions suffered their first defeat of their tour of South Africa, going down 17-13 to a Springboks 'A' side in Cape Town.

Like in Saturday's win over the Sharks, Warren Gatland's team were defensively vulnerable in the first half on Wednesday and were duly punished by a South Africa A team littered with 2019 Rugby World Cup winners.

Indeed, two of those world champions scored South Africa A's tries, with Sbu Nkosi and Lukhanyo Am going over.

Wyn Jones' score early in the second half brought the Lions back into it, but they were unable to stop a seven-match unbeaten streak – their longest such run since a trail of 10 wins across the 1989 and 1993 tours – coming to an end.

South Africa A started as they meant to go on in the first half – Nkosi seeing what seemed a certain try denied by Anthony Watson, though Morne Steyn, who converted the decisive points in the Lions' 2009 series against the Springboks, then nosed the home team ahead with a penalty.

Nkosi got his try in the 12th minute, however, with the wing bursting down the field to dive over in the corner after Eben Etzebeth charged down Owen Farrell's kick.

Steyn added the extras and, after Farrell had hit a three-pointer for the tourists, the 37-year-old was on point with the boot again in the 33rd minute, this time converting Am's try.

Yellow cards for Faf de Klerk and Marco van Staden reduced South Africa A to 13 men before the interval, and the Lions made their numerical advantage count when Wyn Jones barged over four minutes after the restart.

It was Jones' last act, with the Wales international taken off as a precaution – Gatland having already lost Liam Williams to a head injury in the first half.

Farrell hit another penalty to further reduce the deficit, though Louis Rees-Zammit saw a try disallowed by TMO and then Steyn's perfect record was dashed when he punted a long-range effort wide.

Steyn also squandered a drop-goal attempt late on, yet the Lions failed to make him pay as they were dealt a first setback of their 2021 tour.

STEYN BACK WITH A BANG AS LIONS SUFFER RARE CAPE TOWN DEFEAT

Though his kicking was off in the second half, Steyn was clinical in the opening 40 minutes. His Springboks debut came against the Lions back in 2009 as he played in all three Tests, scoring 19 points and not missing a single place kick (seven of seven) during the series.

This was the first time the Lions have played at Cape Town Stadium, which was built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, although they will be back for the first Test. It was only their second defeat in the city from their past 11 appearances there – that previous loss having come back in 1980.

CAPTAIN'S RETURN A BOOST

The Lions laboured against the Sharks on Saturday and, against a Test-standard side this time around, their vulnerabilities were exposed again in the first half. Even though they missed only five tackles, their fewest in a match since also missing five against the Brumbies in 2013 – another game in which they lost – they were too often caught out by the pace of their opposition.

Gatland's team improved after the break, but the remarkable return of Alun Wyn Jones cannot come soon enough. International rugby's most-capped player will be on his way to South Africa on Thursday, with Ireland's Ronan Kelleher also flying out.

Jones will be in contention for the first Test on July 24, while Josh Adams – who has impressed on the tour so far – will likely return for the Stormers game on Saturday, after missing Wednesday's outing to watch the birth of his first child on a video call.

The British and Irish Lions have been handed a huge boost with the news that captain Alun Wyn Jones will join their tour of South Africa – less than three weeks after he suffered a dislocated shoulder.

Jones, 35, sustained the injury during the Lions' warm-up game against Japan at Murrayfield on June 26, but he will fly into Cape Town on Thursday.

The veteran lock came through a training session with the Wales squad at their Vale of Glamorgan base this week before successfully undergoing a medical assessment.

"We are delighted to welcome Alun Wyn back," said head coach Warren Gatland. "It'll come as no surprise to anyone who knows Alun Wyn that since injuring his shoulder against Japan, he's done everything he can to get himself back.

"It's remarkable really when you consider it's just 18 days since he left us in Edinburgh.

"He's been training with the Wales squad at the Vale since last week and yesterday he had a proper hit out. Following assessment from the medical staff this morning we're satisfied he's fit to return.

"He's obviously raring to go and from what I've seen on video and the feedback we’ve received, he's certainly not been holding himself back in training. He was really getting stuck in yesterday.

"It’s a massive boost for the Lions to welcome a player of Alun Wyn's stature back."

Following high-scoring wins in their first three matches against franchise sides, the Lions face what is expected to be the toughest examination of their tour so far when they take on South Africa A in Cape Town on Wednesday.

Ireland earned a famous ODI victory over South Africa in Dublin, with captain Andy Balbirnie scoring a century.

After the first ODI was rained off without a result, Ireland won by 43 runs on Tuesday and will now seek to seal a surprise series success in the final match on Friday.

Captain Andy Balbirnie made 102 as a fast finish from Ireland saw them put up a total of 290-5 from their 50 overs after being put in to bowl by Proteas skipper Temba Bavuma.

That total always looked competitive on a green wicket although it was not until Janneman Malan (84) and Rassie van der Dussen (49) were removed in consecutive overs that South Africa began to toil.

Ireland's Paul Stirling (27) and Andy McBrine (30) were dismissed after making starts, with economical Proteas bowler Tabraiz Shamsi (1-42) limiting the early progress.

Shamsi had Harry Tector dropped first ball in a difficult chance for wicket-keeper Kyle Verreynne, who nonetheless soon rued that moment.

Four sixes helped Tector to 79 runs from 68 balls in a spectacular knock, lasting until the final over when George Dockrell (45 from 23) also fell, with Ireland smashing 65 from the last five overs.

Ireland got off to a good bowling start when Aiden Markram (5) and Bavuma (10) fell early.

Malan and Van der Dussen got to work slowly rebuilding the innings, but the end of their 108-run partnership for the third wicket proved decisive.

Opener Malan was looking to up the tempo when he holed out to deep midwicket in the 33rd over.

Van der Dussen, who impressed in the recent series against Pakistan, fell one short of a fifty seven balls later, out lbw to McBrine (2-34).

That left South Africa on 160-4 and they subsequently collapsed to 247 all out.
 

History for Ireland

Bavuma was immediately facing questions for resting Quinton de Kock and Lungi Ngidi after Ireland made history with a first win over South Africa in international cricket.

Ireland came into this triple-header having lost consecutive 50-over series to Afghanistan and Netherlands, though they have now won five of their last six completed ODIs on home soil, including four straight wins.

South Africa had won all five of the previous completed ODIs between the nations and they have never met in any other format.

Brilliant Balbirnie

Balbirnie scored 65 in the abandoned first ODI and produced an even better knock here after being promoted to opener in place of William Porterfield.

He racked up 12 boundaries which included two sixes in his 117-ball innings, reaching his fifty in just 51 balls to set the tone before holding the fort to set a platform for Tector to make hay late on.

Balbirnie had a scare when dropped by Kagiso Rabada on 74, but ultimately it was a seventh ODI century for him, having also reached three figures in this format against England last year.

Alun Wyn Jones could yet feature for the British and Irish Lions in South Africa, having made a "remarkable" recovery from a dislocated shoulder.

The 35-year-old, who was set to captain Warren Gatland's touring party in South Africa, suffered the injury against Japan at the end of June but could still fly out on Tuesday, subject to medical confirmation.

The Lions face South Africa A, a side packed with 11 World Cup winners, on Wednesday and Gatland revealed in Monday's news conference that Jones could well return.

"A few weeks ago we didn't think there was an option," the Lions head coach said. "We're waiting for medical reports from him to see what happens with that.

"He's been back fully training with Wales – he's training this week with them. I think he's doing a double session with them tomorrow and we'll see what the outcome of that is."

Conor Murray, who is yet to start a game on tour for the Lions, came in to act as Jones' replacement in the captaincy role.

However, Gatland appreciates the invaluable role the Welshman could play if fit.

"He has made a remarkable recovery in terms of that injury, which wasn't as bad as they first thought," he added.

"It would be a boost to the squad having someone of his experience and calibre to come back into the squad."

Experience is exactly what Jones brings, as he represents the only member of the current touring squad to have faced the Springboks with the Lions previously, while also being the most-capped international of all time.

Having triumphed comfortably in the three pre-test matches against South African club sides the Lions and the Sharks, Gatland's team face South Africa A in what is being billed as an unofficial fourth test.

A subsequent fixture against DHL Stormers will follow before the three showpiece clashes with the Springboks get underway on the 24th July, by which time Gatland will be hoping Jones is fit.

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland is pleased to see so many players pushing for Test places after naming a much-changed team to face South Africa A.

The Lions have won all four warm-up matches so far ahead of the start of their three-match series with South Africa later this month, including back-to-back wins over the Sharks.

Gatland has made 12 alterations following the 71-31 victory over the Sharks on Saturday, with Anthony Watson, Chris Harris and Dan Biggar the only ones to be retained.

Watson moves from right wing to full-back and Harris will shift to outside centre to play alongside Bundee Aki, while Maro Itoje partners Iain Henderson in the second row after recovering from illness.

Wednesday's clash in Cape Town will be a proud occasion for tour captain Conor Murray, who will lead out the Lions for the first time.

Gatland has a number of big calls to make in terms of team selection for the opening game with world champions South Africa on July 24, with just two warm-up matches to go.

"We're pleased to have arrived in Cape Town as we near the halfway stage of the series," he said.

"Wednesday's game against South Africa A will be our toughest encounter since we arrived here and we're looking forward to it. 

"We expect them to be physical in the contact area and look to test us at scrum time.

"I think we've benefitted from playing at altitude in the first three games. While the boys have felt it in their lungs, they'll be all the better for it now we're at sea level.

"As we move towards the business end of the tour, it's pleasing to see so many players putting in some stand-out performances. 

"As coaches we want the players to make Test selection as hard as possible and that's what we're seeing."


Lions team to face South Africa A:

Anthony Watson, Louis Rees-Zammit, Chris Harris, Bundee Aki, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Conor Murray; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Iain Henderson, Josh Navidi, Tom Curry, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Zander Fagerson, Adam Beard, Tadhg Beirne, Sam Simmonds, Gareth Davies, Elliot Daly.

South Africa's preparations for their upcoming series against the British and Irish Lions have been dealt a blow after captain Siya Kolisi and five other players tested positive for coronavirus.

Dan Du Preez, Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Scarra Ntubeni and Makazole Mapimpi have been forced into self-isolation alongside their skipper and three members of team management.

An SA Rugby statement read: "With the entire squad and management team confined to their rooms since Monday, the possibility of transmission through close contact has been mitigated."

Over 20 members of the Springboks' squad have now returned positive tests in the build-up to the three-match series, which is scheduled to begin on July 24.

That includes head coach Jacques Nienaber, who is unable to work with his players as he continues to self-isolate.

Instead, South Africa's director of rugby Rassie Erasmus is taking charge of training sessions for the remaining members of the squad.

Nienaber said: "We are delighted to be able to return to the field and resume our preparations for the Lions series.

"It has been a challenging week with the Test against Georgia on Friday night 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 Lions, but these are extraordinary times and we have to adapt as a team. I have to commend the players and management for that.

"We are a tight-knit coaching team and everyone takes responsibility in their respective roles. It is also great to have Rassie steering the ship while I am away.

"He has been part of the system for several years now and he guided most of these players to the World Cup title in 2019, so the team is in great hands."

The British and Irish Lions will face the Sharks for the second time this week after the scheduled clash with the Bulls was postponed.

Warren Gatland's men were due to take on the Bulls in their third match of the trip on Saturday, but that match was called off due to coronavirus cases in the Pretoria-based franchise's squad.

Instead, the tourists will do battle with the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld, just three days after hammering them 54-7.

SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux said: "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."

Lions managing director Ben Calveley said: "We’re very grateful to the Sharks for agreeing to play us again this Saturday at Loftus Versfeld.

"We have further COVID-19 testing scheduled for today [Thursday] and tomorrow. The results of those tests will determine whether we will be able fulfil this fixture, but, as it stands, we are optimistic.

"We remain committed to the tour in South Africa and determined to rise to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic."

Lions head coach Gatland insisted he is not concerned about the viability of the tour despite a coronavirus outbreak hitting his squad just hours before their midweek drubbing of the Sharks.

South Africa were due to do battle with Georgia but COVID-19 cases in both camps put paid to that fixture just a fortnight before the first Test against the Lions.

The Springboks playing and management group returned 12 positive tests this week, with Georgia returning four. 

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