South Africa suspended training on Monday and again placed their entire squad in isolation after lock Lood de Jager tested positive for coronavirus.

It is the second time the Springboks have been forced to take preventative measures ahead of their upcoming series with the British and Irish Lions.

Vincent Koch, Herschel Jantjies and Sbu Nkosi tested positive for COVID-19 on June 27, though the world champions resumed training and their first warm-up match – a 40-9 victory over Georgia – went ahead as planned last Friday.

However, this Friday's game against the same opponents is now in jeopardy following another positive case, which also raises further questions about the three-match Test series with the Lions.

A statement from SA Rugby on Monday read: "Springbok training has been suspended for Monday following a positive test for COVID-19 in the squad.

"The players have been placed in preventative isolation prior to further PCR testing and a review of the testing data by the Medical Advisory Group (MAG).

"Lood de Jager returned a positive outcome in scheduled testing and, because of his close contact with a number of squad members, the entire group has gone into isolation.

"An update will be issued following the review by the MAG and the further testing."

South Africa's victory over Georgia was their first match since winning the World Cup in November 2019.

Their first Test with the Lions is due to take place on July 24 in Cape Town, before moving to Johannesburg for the second and third matches.

Jake Gordon will return from a knee injury scare to start for the Wallabies against France in the first Test in Brisbane on Wednesday. 

The Waratahs captain is set to line up alongside Noah Lolesio in the halves with Nic White and James O'Connor ruled out due to injury. 

Few would have predicted Gordon would don the Australia number nine jersey so soon after he left late in a defeat to the Highlanders last month with what was initially feared to be an anterior cruciate ligament injury. 

Yet he was able to make a quick recovery after scans revealed only minor damage to his medial collateral ligament, opening the door for his first Wallabies start since his debut against Italy back in 2018.

Up front, Lolesio's Brumbies team-mates James Slipper and Allan Alaalatoa are the starting props and Brandon Paenga-Amosa was named at hooker by head coach Dave Rennie.

Matt Philip and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto are in the second row, with Rob Valetini to make his first start for the Wallabies at blindside flanker, captain Michael Hooper in the number seven shirt and Harry Wilson at number eight.

Veteran Matt Toomua is at number 12 alongside Hunter Paisami.

The back three features Marika Koroibete and the Brumbies pairing of Tom Wright and Tom Banks.

"The whole squad has been training really hard over the past three weeks to prepare for what’s going to be an exciting, tough series against the French," Rennie said.

"We’ve always selected a side based on earning the right to wear the jersey and this team is no different.

"The whole group is excited to be back playing Test rugby in front of our families and supporters and we’re looking to start the year with a positive result at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night.”

Australia have won their past 11 at home against France dating back to a 1990 loss in Brisbane.


Australia: Tom Banks Tom Wright, Hunter Paisami, Matt Toomua, Marika Koroibete, Noah Lolesio, Jake Gordon; James Slipper, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Allan Alaalatoa, Matt Philip, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rob Valenti, Michael Hooper, Harry Wilson.

Replacements: Lachlan Lonergan, Angus Bell, Taniela Tupou, Darcy Swain, Isi Naisarani, Tate McDermott, Len Ikitau, Andrew Kellaway.

The British and Irish Lions will repeat a feat last achieved back in 1959 if they avoid a series defeat in South Africa.

Warren Gatland's side drew with New Zealand four years ago after a 2-1 triumph in Australia in 2013.

It is 62 years since the Lions were able to avoid defeat in a third consecutive tour and they will have to face the world champions without Alun Wyn Jones, who was replaced as captain by Conor Murray after he suffered a dislocated shoulder in the win over Japan.

Confirmation on Sunday that three members of the Springboks squad have tested positive for coronavirus was a concern before the Lions boarded the plane to South Africa.

They are due to play five tour matches before the first Test against the Springboks at Cape Town Stadium on July 24.

Stats Perform picks out some of the standout Opta numbers for such an eagerly-awaited tour.

 

BOKS TO GO BACK-TO-BACK?

South Africa were 2-1 winners the last time the Lions toured in 2009, but they have not won back-to-back series since coming out on top in 1962 and 1968.

The Springboks have won eight, lost four and tied one of their previous series against the Lions.

South Africa can boast 23 victories to the Lions' 17, with six of the 46 previous showdowns ending in a draw.

There have been alternate winners in the past five series between the Lions and South Africa, a sequence the Lions will be hoping continues.

 

SOUTH-AFRICA-BORN FLYER AMONG DEADLY DEBUTANTS

While the loss of Jones and Justin Tipuric to injury in the win over Japan at Murrayfield were big blows, Gatland will have been encouraged by the performances of his debutants.

Three of the four try-scorers in Edinburgh were making their Lions bows, with Josh Adams, Duhan Van Der Merwe and Tadhg Beirne crossing.

South-Africa born Scotland wing Van der Merwe was the leading try-scorer in the Six Nations this year with six and beat 31 defenders in the tournament, breaking a record set by Brian O'Driscoll.

He can make a big impact against his country of birth along with Adams, the leading try-scorer at the 2019 World Cup with seven.

South Africa must also be wary of Louis Rees-Zammit, the youngest tourist aged 20, after he scored four Six Nations tries and had the most clean breaks (nine) in the competition, also gaining the most metres per carry (9.9m from 27 carries).

Beirne caught the eye against Japan and can play a big part in South Africa. He affected the most turnovers in the Six Nations with nine and was the first man to 87 rucks - the same number as Gregory Alldritt.

 

PASS MASTER MURRAY CAN DICTATE

Murray was surprised to be given the honour of skippering the Lions in the absence of the most-capped player in the history of international rugby.

The Ireland scrum-half has vast experience and can lead by example in his third Lions tour.

Murray has won two, lost two and drawn one of his previous Lions Tests and will look to pull the strings for the tourists.

The 32-year-old pivot has assisted 25 Six Nations tries, eight more than any other player, and holds the record for the most passes in the competition with 3,527. Peter Stringer is next on the list with 2,539.

 

KEY MEN CAN ROAR AGAIN

There were some outstanding performances in the Lions' tour of New Zealand as they drew 1-1 with the All Blacks.

Maro Itoje was among the heroes of that tour and the England lock will embrace the battle with the Springboks. He hit more rucks (162) than any other player in the Six Nations this year and amassed 16 turnovers.

Versatile back Liam Williams made the most metres by a Lions player on the tour in New Zealand four years ago with 344 from six games.

Gatland has been able to rely on Taulupe Faletau time and again over the years. The back-row made the most tackles (76) in New Zealand and beat more defenders (14) than any other forward.

It is nothing new for there to be uncertainty over what to expect for a British and Irish Lions touring party but the class of 2021 are well and truly stepping into the unknown.

Typically all the talk is over selection. Who starts at number 10? What will the make-up of the pack be, who gets the nod as the centre pairing or which wingers will be unleashed in the first Test?

Of course those questions are still to be answered, but when the Lions arrived in Johannesburg on Monday they were not only facing the challenge of trying to secure a starting berth.

A big surge in coronavirus cases has seen South Africa move into a 'level four' lockdown, with travel restrictions, an alcohol ban and an overnight curfew.

As the Lions were preparing to fly out on Sunday, it emerged that Springboks trio Herschel Jantjies, Vincent Koch and Sbu Nkosi had tested positive for COVID-19 - forcing training to be cancelled and the squad going into isolation.

They have since been given the green light to train and are set to face Georgia at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Friday in their first Test since beating England in the 2019 World Cup final.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the drinks flowed as South Africa celebrated lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in Japan and they have a new head coach in Jacques Nienaber.

The world champions have also faced uncertainty, with the possibility of the Lions having home advantage or the series being staged in a neutral country before it was confirmed South Africa will host the tour.

While South Africa know they will not be entering the Lions den, Warren Gatland and his touring party are not certain where they might be heading just under a month before the first Test in Cape Town on July 24.

 

They are set to face a namesake in the Johannesburg-based Lions side, twice runners-up in Super Rugby, on Saturday as one the first of five matches in Gauteng but it is reported they could make further changes to the schedule.

The COVID situation has led to suggestions the entire three-match Test series could be played in Cape Town, with alternations to the fixtures having already been made last month.

Hostile crowds usually await the Lions, but they are set to face the might of the Springboks behind closed doors without an army of travelling fans to roar them on.

They must also go into battle without inspirational leader Alun Wyn Jones, ruled out due to a dislocated shoulder in the win over Japan at Murrayfield along with Wales team-mate Justin Tipuric.

A strong camaraderie will be needed more than ever, with Conor Murray promoted to skipper the side in the absence of stalwart Jones.

But there will be a lack of nights out as they are restricted to bonding in the bubble.

Gatland's men drew 1-1 with then-world champions New Zealand four years ago and can make it three series without defeat next month - a streak that has not been achieved since 1959.

They have the same head coach and key men who starred against the All Blacks, combined with exciting new faces such as South Africa-born wing Duhan van der Merwe and Louis Rees-Zammit.

Gatland may be unsure what challenges the Lions will face on and off the field before the opening Test but the wily New Zealander knows will know what to expect from a formidable South Africa side.

South Africa Rugby has announced the entire Springboks squad is self-isolating after three players tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the Test series against the British and Irish Lions.

Following the discovery of the trio of cases during PCR testing in Johannesburg, the reigning world champions announced the cancellation of a planned training session on Sunday.

Team management will consult with medical experts before deciding what steps to take next, with the isolation of players and staff coming just as the Lions prepare to fly out from Edinburgh.

"The Springboks cancelled Sunday's planned training session in Johannesburg as a precautionary measure when scheduled testing protocols returned three positive COVID-19 test results when the team assembled on Saturday," a statement read.

"Three players tested positive for the virus following stringent real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing procedures on arrival at the team base.

"Team management immediately put the squad into self-isolation as a precaution until specialist medical advice is sought from the medical advisory group (MAG).

"A decision on further team activities will be made shortly.

"Director of rugby Rassie Erasmus emphasised that the team had followed all the necessary precautions since the start of the three-week conditioning camp hosted in Bloemfontein, which included mandatory COVID-19 testing three times a week, and that they would be led by specialist advice before any action is taken."

 

The Lions have had problems to deal with before departing for South Africa, captain Alun Wyn Jones suffering a dislocated shoulder during the warm-up win over Japan on Saturday that will see him miss the entire trip.

Fellow Wales international Justin Tipuric is another to be ruled out following the 28-10 victory at Murrayfield, with head coach Warren Gatland calling up Adam Beard and Josh Navidi as replacements.

Conor Murray, meanwhile, is to take over the captaincy duties in the absence of Jones, who was set to lead the squad on his fourth tour with the Lions.

The three-match Test series against the Springboks begins at Cape Town Stadium on July 24.

Fraser Dingwall has been called up to the England squad in place of Manu Tuilagi, who has withdrawn due to injury.

The Sale Sharks centre was hurt during his side's 40-30 Premiership semi-final defeat to Exeter Chiefs last Saturday.

Tuilagi, who missed the autumn internationals last year and England's Six Nations campaign, was only three games into a return following an Achilles problem sustained last September.

Northampton Saints' Dingwall has joined up with Eddie Jones' squad ahead of the match between England A and Scotland A in Leicester on Sunday.

Jones' men then play a Test match double-header against the United States at Twickenham on July 4 and July 10.

Tadhg Furlong has signed a new Irish Rugby Football Union contract until the end of the 2021-22 season.

The Ireland and Leinster prop had been linked with a move overseas but has decided to stay in his homeland.

Furlong has won 49 caps since making his Ireland debut in 2015 and was last week selected for the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa, having also played in three Tests against New Zealand four years ago.

The 28-year-old lifted the European Rugby Champions Cup with Leinster in 2018 and has won five PRO12/14 titles, but a defeat to La Rochelle ended Leo Cullen's side's bid for European glory this year.

Furlong said: "Happy to sign on for one more year. There has been some tough days of late but I believe the squads we have in both Leinster and Ireland are able to compete for trophies in the future.

"I look forward to hopefully playing at a packed out RDS or Aviva Stadium in the months ahead."

David Nucifora, IRFU performance director, said: "Tadhg was a long time out of the game but showed upon his return in January what a positive influence he can be for both Ireland and Leinster.

"He has grown as a senior voice in the Ireland squad and his recent performances reminded everyone why he is rated as one of the best tightheads in world rugby."

 

Australia will host France in a three-Test series in July, Rugby Australia (RA) announced on Friday.

The Wallabies will welcome fifth-ranked nation France to Australia, with games staged in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Midweek Test rugby will return for the first time since 2012 when the Wallabies face France at the SCG on July 7 before games at AAMI Park in Melbourne (July 13) and Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium (July 17).

Dave Rennie's Australia – who last met France in 2016 – will play a match at the SCG for the first time since 1986.

"France are one of the most exciting teams in World Rugby; they play with passion, flair and unpredictability and have proven time and time again they are one of the global forces of our game," said RA chief executive Andy Marinos.

"They have been quietly building their team as evidenced in their Junior World Cup performances over the past three seasons, and we are now starting to see this translate into their senior side as they look ahead to the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France."

"We have also seen the emergence of our own new next generation of Wallaby players throughout the 2020 International season, where I have no doubt, they will continue to build positive momentum into this exciting eToro France Test Series to be held in in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane," he added. 

"The return of midweek Test matches presents a unique opportunity for fans at home and at the venue, with each stadium in a central location for those attending after work.

"As we navigate our way through the ever-changing sporting landscape that we now operate within, we do so with the continued safety of all those involved in these Test matches, along with the communities in which we play, remaining our number one priority.

"We have enjoyed constructive and engaged discussions with [Rugby Union Players Association] RUPA on the international calendar, ensuring that player welfare and high-performance outcomes can be optimised. We will continue to work with our players to ensure our collective goal of being successful in all we do is realised."

France suffered a 3-0 whitewash during their last tour of Australia in 2014, and French Rugby Federation (FFR) president Bernard Laporte said: "It is a great opportunity for our French team to confront an emblematic nation of the southern hemisphere that has marked the history of world rugby such as Australia.

"We are convinced that our bleus, who feel a growing popular wave of the French at each match, will be keen to continue to perform on the international stage and demonstrate that France is among the great nations of world rugby!"

George North will miss the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa after suffering a serious knee injury.

The versatile Wales back on Wednesday confirmed he sustained a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in the Ospreys' Pro14 Rainbow Cup win over Cardiff Blues on Saturday.

North will undergo surgery next week and could be out for up to nine months, ruling him out of contention for what could have been his third Lions tour.

The 29-year-old tweeted: "Sport can be cruel. We all know the risks when we take the field.

"Unfortunately I ruptured my ACL on Saturday and will need surgery next week. Heartbroken is an understatement."

New Zealand captain Sam Cane has undergone successful surgery on a pectoral injury.

Cane suffered a tear in his right pectoral tendon during the Chiefs' Super Rugby Aotearoa victory over the Blues last month.

The back-row, who is expected to be out for between four and six months, revealed he also had damage to his shoulder repaired during the procedure.

Cane posted on Instagram: "Surgery went well. Grateful to have a very good surgeon who reattached my pectoral muscle but also tired [sic] up a few loose ends with my shoulder while he was in there

"Looking forward to starting the rehab process and coming back stronger."

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster said following Cane's injury blow: "We are all disappointed for Sam, but we have full faith in the medical team around him and we wish him well for his surgery and rehabilitation.

"As All Blacks captain, he will still play a key role in our planning for the 2021 season, and we look forward to him returning to the footy field once his rehab is complete."

It was not sealed in the fashion they would have hoped for, but Wales could belatedly celebrate Six Nations glory on Friday.

Wayne Pivac's side had missed the chance to claim a Grand Slam triumph last week in a heartbreaking last-gasp defeat to France.

But with France needing a bonus-point win by a 21-point margin in Friday's rearranged clash with Scotland - delayed due to an earlier COVID-19 outbreak - to deny Wales again, Les Bleus' loss in Paris handed them the title.

"It's a real emotional rollercoaster, the last seven days really," Wales head coach Pivac said on Saturday.

He added: "It was just different and that's what we've come to expect from this pandemic really.

"It was evident that we had to go and do something different and that was to watch us win a championship from our living room."

That was far from the only first in a tournament with its fair share of twists and turns, though, as Opta data shows.
 

MORE TRIES, MORE DRAMA

There were six tries in Friday's frantic affair at the Stade de France and that contributed to a new Six Nations record.

A total of 86 tries were scored across the 15 matches, the most in a single edition of the tournament in its history.

And Scotland's dramatic 27-23 success, sealed with an 80th-minute Duhan van der Merwe score, was a fitting end to the competition.

Eight of the 15 games were decided by margins of five points or fewer, another new benchmark.

"There were some great games," Pivac said. "It was just a shame we didn't have crowds. You can imagine how much of an atmosphere would have been generated.

"It was a good advertisement for the game and a lot of nations are heading in the right direction. It's exciting."

Van der Merwe beat two defenders in the decisive fixture and in doing so set a new tournament high of 31, surpassing Brian O'Driscoll's 30 defenders beaten in 2000.

The wing's brace also saw him become the first Scotland player to finish a Six Nations campaign as the outright leading try scorer (five).

France needed to score at least one more try in order to have a chance of snatching the championship, but they still matched their best haul of 18 from 2006.

Not all the records were quite so impressive.

Italy conceded 239 points, 34 tries and had a points difference of -184, the worst such tallies for any team in an edition of the Six Nations.
 

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

Wales' title was their sixth since Italy were introduced to the tournament to form the Six Nations in 2000.

Four of their previous five had been Grand Slam successes, a record over this period they could not extend thanks to France's epic win last week.

But Wales are now only one Six Nations crown behind England's seven.

"It gives us a lot of confidence to feel like we're on the right track," the title-winning coach said. "We can't get ahead of ourselves."

This was not a tournament England will reflect on fondly, even as captain Owen Farrell became only the third man - after Ronan O'Gara and Jonny Wilkinson - to reach 500 points in the Five/Six Nations.

Eddie Jones' outfit came in as defending champions but slumped to their joint-worst Six Nations finish, coming fifth as they had in 2018.

England also lost against Ireland, Wales and Scotland in the same Five/Six Nations campaign for the first time since 1976.

At the bottom of the table, though, there was no change.

Italy have picked up the Wooden Spoon in each of the past six years, this after finishing bottom of the championship just once in the prior four seasons.

Wayne Pivac says Wales' failure to win the Grand Slam takes nothing away from their Six Nations success after they were crowned champions on Friday.

Six days after Wales missed out on the Grand Slam with a heartbreaking last-gasp defeat to France at Stade de France, Scotland denied Les Bleus the title with a stunning 27-23 victory in the final match of the tournament.

Duhan van der Merwe's second try right at the end of a thrilling contest gave Scotland a first win in Paris since 1999.

France had to claim a bonus-point victory by a margin of at least 21 points to win the title, but fell short due to an outstanding Scotland performance in tough conditions on a rainy evening.

Wales head coach Pivac had to contend with speculation over his future last year during a difficult start to his reign, but the New Zealander was celebrating on Friday.

He said: "From a Welsh point of view, we are over the moon and very happy to have won the Championship. It's just a shame we couldn't have done it together as a group last week.

"It [France v Scotland] was a hell of a game. It reminded me of last week with cards, penalties and missed opportunities. It had everything.

"It was a great game to watch and following on from last week, what a tournament it's been."

Pivac added: "We don't want to talk too much about last week – it [the Grand Slam] wasn't to be.

"It certainly doesn't take anything away from the fact a lot of hard work has been done, we've come out on top of the points table and won the tournament.

"We are very happy with how things are going at the moment in our camp and we've built nicely through the competition. Some great rugby has been played in this Championship and it's exciting times for all concerned."

Gregor Townsend felt a first win in Paris since 1999 was a fitting finale for one of Scotland's "best-ever seasons" as France missed out on the Six Nations title with a dramatic defeat.

Les Bleus had to secure a bonus-point victory in the final match of the tournament by a margin of at least 21 points to be crowned champions at Stade de France on Friday.

It was Scotland who were celebrated on a wet night in the French capital, though, and Wales took the title after Duhan van der Merwe snatched a stunning 27-23 triumph by scoring his second try of a pulsating contest right at the end.

David Cherry also dotted down in the second half before Finn Russell was shown a red card nine minutes from time for catching Brice Dulin in the throat with his leading arm, having booted 10 points on his return to the side.

Scotland started the tournament with a first win over England at Twickenham since 1983 and ended it with a long-awaited away victory against France.

Townsend's men finished in fourth spot, but the Scotland head coach believes they made great strides this season.

He told BBC One: "I'm so proud of the team. They came here with a bit of adversity with not our full squad, an injury to one of our starters [Matt Fagerson] on Wednesday, a yellow card [for Stuart Hogg], a red card, we had to come back against a very good side, but they showed courage, effort, togetherness, and skill to win.

"A great end to a really promising season for us. Even though we finished fourth, it feels like one of our best-ever seasons with the victories we've had this year and the performances tonight especially.

"That's now been the last two years we've been competitive in every game. We've grown a lot this year, grown a lot this campaign, and we've got to continue to grow over the next few years."

Scotland captain Hogg expressed his pride following a famous win, but was left with mixed feelings.

"Results at times at times have been outstanding, the performances at times have been very good, but we're probably going to be kicking ourselves in the foot with some of the losses," said the full-back.

"We're not going to get carried away, we're going to enjoy this moment and start building towards something memorable.

"I'm the captain of a very, very proud nation and we'll continue to work hard."

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