The Springboks resumed training on Sunday in preparation for the Castle Lager Lions Series 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.
All the players and management who had COVID-19 Tests on Saturday returned negative test results, which paved the way for the players to train on Sunday.
Four rounds of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing in the last week delivered new positive cases among the players and three among the team management.
The players who tested positive were Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, Dan du Preez, (both loose forwards), Ox Nché (prop), Bongi Mbonambi, Scarra Ntubeni (both hookers) and Makazole Mapimpi (wing).
With the entire squad and management team confined to their rooms since Monday, however, the possibility of transmission through close contact has been mitigated.
With two hookers among the positive COVID-19 test results and all the players who tested positive expected to follow strict return-to-play protocols, Cell C Sharks hooker Fez Mbatha has been drafted into the squad as cover.
Vodacom Bulls prop Lizo Gqoboka has also been called up as additional prop cover.
SA Rugby Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus will take the lead at the field training sessions with assistant coaches Mzwandile Stick, Daan Human and Deon Davids while Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber continues his self-isolation 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 Castle Lager Lions Series,” said Nienaber, who 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, and I have to commend the players and management for that.”
Nienaber had no doubt the side was in good hands in his absence and said: “We are a tight-knit coaching team and everyone takes responsibility in their respective roles.
“It is also great to have Rassie (Erasmus) 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 Rugby World Cup title in 2019, so the team is in great hands.”
Nienaber welcomed Mbatha and Gqoboka the squad and said: “They have both been playing good rugby for their franchises.
“Lizo has played for the Springboks so we know him well, and Fez has an idea of the expectations of representing the country after playing for the Junior Springboks in the World Rugby U20 Championship, and he attended our Springbok alignment camps earlier in the year.”
“Fez also experienced first-hand what the British & Irish Lions have to offer after facing them in the midweek game on Wednesday, so we are pleased to welcome him to the squad and to see what he will bring on the training field.”
The South Africa ‘A’ team is scheduled to face the British & Irish Lions in Cape Town on Wednesday, 14 July.
This will be followed by three Test matches against the visitors in the historic series on Saturday, 24 and 31 July, and 7 August respectively.