The Lions continued their unbeaten run in South Africa on Wednesday night, crushing the Sharks 54-7.
But the day was not without challenges for the tourists after they received two positive coronavirus tests inside their camp.
These positives led to the identification of 12 close contacts, which led to collective changes in the side on which the sharks were to be confronted.
Players were confined to their rooms all day as test results came in and Ali Price, Owen Farrell, Louis Rhys Zammit and Josh Adams had to start for the second time in three days.
Here’s what Warren Gatland had to say about it all after the match…
Question: Warren, you’ve been exercising for a long time – have you ever known a day like this?
Warren Gatland: No, not really. It was so surreal and a real challenge considering the staff and players were in our rooms until 6am this evening.
We only got results at 5:30 and had to make some changes but we are very proud of the performance, the players, how they adapted and how hard the staff worked.
I walked out of there thinking I was proud of it but more than the performance and the result. I was really proud of the group’s collaboration, how they wanted to go out and play and put on this shirt.
Q: Every team has a moment or performance that brings them together – could this be for this group?
WG: My message to the players is to use this as a positive thing. Whatever is thrown at us, we can deal with it. Nothing will affect us.
We were in a situation where we weren’t in control of things, so we just had to deal with the flow and adapt.
We talk about being in a mess and being able to adapt and change. That’s what we did today and the players were really great with their style.
It was their voice in the locker rooms after that and I think the way they support each other on the court has been phenomenal.
Q: A 7-1 split on the bench between front and back – was it about asking for volunteers to cover their backs?
WG: A little bit like that, yeah. We had some close contacts that weren’t available, two guys were holding little hits.
We had to change the nine to ten. Ali Price got a big hit in his quad, so he went ahead and then Owen Farrell too.
Achilles Finn Russell was sore, so he sat down on the bench for us. We’ve had these players do such things.
We weren’t too bothered by the front beam. On the bench, Tadge Byrne had to come out until Marrow came in there. We put Hamish Watson and Tulube Valletau for cover only.
We know they could have gone into defense if they needed to but we were able to get them into the attackers.
Their appearance was really difficult. I said then that it was a lot easier for the strikers because they were able to replace them.
It dug our backs incredibly deep.
We knocked out Dohan van der Merwe because his hamstrings were strained and we were able to score a Josh Adams attempt when we were under 14 men.
Then Louis Reis-Zammitt’s hamstring tightened, so we played the last few minutes with 13 guys when the bout was comfortable in the bag.
Q: Is there any news regarding a possible game this weekend and will Covid cases affect this with all close contacts?
WG: maybe yes. Look, I need to talk to the medical team about that and get a report from them.
we will talk tomorrow [Thursday] About whether there is a match for the weekend.
My understanding is that one of the positives is twice as positive and if retested tomorrow [Thursday] Which is a negative, his close contacts should be just fine.
We may need to wait for that.
Then I will need a report from the medical team on the situation of the players today [Wednesday].
Someone like Josh Adams made three in a row, so he’s a player we probably need to rest.
I have to tip my hat to these guys, they dug deep into the whole team. It just shows me what it means to play for lions.
Q: Regarding the COVID situation, do you have any concerns about the viability of the tour?
WG: not at all. We were incredibly vigilant about what we were doing as a group. We’ve been in this bubble for the past 4 weeks, so we’re not sure where it came from.
The tricky thing is when we first got to the hotel, there were a number of hotel employees who had tested positive and had to be removed.
Whether it’s because of that or not, I know all of our tests have been negative until today [Wednesday].
We will treat it as is. We knew there were going to be certain challenges but we were hoping we could get things back on track and this test series could continue.
Q: What was the most satisfying aspect of tonight’s performance?
WG: I was really happy in general with the defence. They didn’t look like they were actually causing us any problems.
There were a few times when the game loosened up and they got a few passes and stressed us out a little bit.
But I thought, defensively, we looked very strong and created some chances and finished some great attempts.
They constituted a bit of a different defensive threat to what the Lions did last night, so we had to play through them a bit more.
What satisfied some of these attempts was the patience we showed. We waited to finish our chances, while in the first game we were probably dictating things a bit more.
There have been times when we’ve had a number of transitions from forcing the situation a lot but we kept our patience tonight.
Q: What about the Josh Navidi effect?
WG: He is an absolute quality player. He was definitely one of the contenders and we didn’t pick him up initially because he had a shoulder injury, he didn’t have any rugby and there were no guarantees he would be back in shape.
The ironic situation is that he has benefited from the unfortunate injury of Justin Tiborich which has given him more time to recover fully training with Wales.
I’ve known him for a long time. It took several years…it probably deserved more recognition and there was criticism of me in Wales for not being picked earlier.
But when he’s fit, he’s been a mainstay of that Welsh side. It is definitely important to them.
I thought the loose strikers complemented each other and they all did some really good things. Speaking to the boys afterward, the effects of altitude still reached them. They were blowing like nothing.
It was tough this evening, especially after the challenge of being in your room for eight hours today. It is not the easiest thing.
He exonerated himself well. Those new hats should be proud of their performance. I thought Adam Bird had a really good game today. He advocated their immigration very well.
I’m happy with a number of performances but, more than that, happy with the overall direction of the team.
Q: Just to check the injuries of Louis Reis Zammit and Dohan van der Merwe – they are not very serious?
WG: They are not injuries. The hamstrings were just shrinking, and the match was won, so we removed it as a precaution.
There was no need to risk them. They did a lot of runs in the game, Doohan scored three runs and Lewis also scored on the scoresheet.
There was no point in risking these guys, who gave us everything they had.
Q: Josh Adams makes it seem so easy right now?
WG: He’s trying to score, and defensively, he’s improved as a full-back. There were a couple of defensive errors in terms of his positional play but he definitely improved.
It was tough on him. Ideally we wanted to rest him tonight but he went up and played the full 80 minutes. You have to tip your hat to him and he knows where the test line is.
He’s making the most of his chances and he’s definitely raising his hand.
Q: You still play in empty stadiums when there are crowds in the UK – what’s the situation there?
WG: We got close to each other as a group. The players haven’t experienced the fans at all as they only started taking them back to the UK recently.
It was great to have 16,500 in Edinburgh but the players got used to that last year.
This is the new normal we are talking about. It’s not really different from what we used to do before.
Q: As someone on the ground in South Africa, are you confident that we will see a test series?
WG: Absolutely. I honestly think we’ll see a test series.
We spoke before and our medics said that because we are in South Africa, we are likely to have a case or two. It just comes down to how we deal with it.
The players were incredibly attentive. South Africa may be in a worse situation.
We have a couple of weeks to hopefully get everyone right so we can have a good test series, making sure we’re safe in our bubbles.
This is definitely what we have been trying to do.
We’re not sure where we picked these cases from – whether that was through hotel staff or some people passing through at matches.
I am not 100% sure. As far as we’re concerned, we’re preparing and looking forward to a test series.