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Lions seeking exemption to avoid hotel quarantine after South Africa

Lions seeking exemption to avoid hotel quarantine after South Africa
© Reuters
South Africa is currently on the Government's red list.

Warren Gatland admits the British and Irish Lions will face up to 10 weeks in their bubble environment if they are forced to quarantine on their return from South Africa.

The Lions are seeking elite sport exemption to avoid having to spend 11 nights in a Government-approved hotel on arrival at Heathrow – the requirement for anyone travelling from a country placed on the red list.

Eleven England cricketers including Jos Buttler and Jason Roy are currently quarantining at hotels following their return from the Indian Premier League, which has been suspended because of the escalating coronavirus crisis in India.

Discussions between the Lions and the Government are ongoing with the tourists hoping dispensation will be granted on the grounds they will be operating in a bubble with a regular testing programme in place.

But as it stands they must quarantine and with players meeting up for the first time for a training camp in Jersey in mid-June and returning from South Africa on August 9, Gatland knows his squad are facing an extended period away from home.

"The big challenge for us is being in the bubble in South Africa and potentially having to quarantine when we come back," the Lions head coach said.

"If you add in the two-week camp before we go it could be up to 10 weeks away and in a bubble.

"The rugby side takes care of itself so it's important we get the other stuff right and think about the players' wellbeing and mental health.

"The rugby's going to be the easy part. We need to get the other stuff right and then we've got a chance of performing on the field."

Players being required to quarantine for 10 full days on their return could create further conflict between the Lions and Gallagher Premiership clubs, who will face additional time without their stars.

The top flight only last week agreed to release players for the Jersey camp and warm-up Test against Japan at Murrayfield on June 26 and will baulk at the prospect of another 10 days being added to the extended mandatory rest period for England's Lions.

England cricketers Jason Roy (left) and Jos Buttler are currently in quarantine
England cricketers Jason Roy (left) and Jos Buttler are currently in quarantine after returning from India (John Walton/PA)

The tourists hope to publish their revised schedule for South Africa next week with the eight fixtures culminating in a three-Test series against the Springboks now taking place in Johannesburg and Cape Town only, reducing travel amid the pandemic.

Gatland, who on Thursday announced a 37-man squad captained by Alun Wyn Jones, admits this tour will provide unique challenges.

"The safety of the players is paramount and the mental health of the players comes first," Gatland said.

"Being in that bubble, being away from family, it will be about making sure we stay connected with our families.

Alun Wyn Jones will lead the tour to South Africa
Alun Wyn Jones will lead the tour to South Africa (PA)

"We'll have to keep the players entertained, put things on for them – competitions, pool, darts, cards, casino nights, sing songs, quizzes. We've got to be creative in that area.

"We'll probably continue with the singing and choir practice that we've done in the past. That was successful for us. Those kinds of things are something that we need to get right.

"Can we go to a restaurant and take over the whole place? Can we go to a bar and how do we do that safely? Are the players able to go and play golf or go fishing on a day off?

"I'll be guided by the medical advice on the things that we can do and the protocols.

"Those are the challenges for us and if we get that right then we've got a good chance of doing well on tour."

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