British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland said on Saturday the past seven days had been one of the most challenging periods of his coaching career.
Speaking after the Lions beat the Sharks 71-31 in Pretoria to complete a hat-trick of tour wins, Gatland said he believed a week of drama linked to Covid-19 cases had a positive benefit.
“Nothing that will be thrown at us will come as a surprise,” he said.
The Lions will move to Cape Town on Sunday, leaving behind one player and four staff members after a positive Covid test.
But Gatland said all had subsequently tested negative and he expected them to rejoin the tour by Wednesday.
Gatland revealed there were Covid challenges from the day the Lions checked into their Johannesburg accommodation.
“We arrived at the hotel on the first day and 12 of the staff had tested positive and then a couple of days later another five and then another two and then another one.”
He said the Lions had insisted that the staff at their Cape Town hotel check in earlier, that they would stay on site and be tested regularly.
Gatland said he was now focusing on the rugby challenge that will culminate in three Tests against South Africa, starting in Cape Town on July 24.
“We are well aware of the challenges the Springboks will bring, how tough they are going to be and the physicality they are going to bring.
“The Sharks brought it to us in the first half but we probably have not been tested for 80 minutes like we need to be. Hopefully we are going to get that in the next two games.”
Gatland said he had not yet been told officially who the Lions will be playing on Wednesday, although he expected it would be the Cape franchise, the Stormers, with the scheduled South Africa A fixture switched to Saturday.
“The next two matches are going to be pretty important for a number of players,” he said.
The Kiwi admitted the Lions had not been at their best in a first half which ended tied at 26-26. The Lions took control in the second half after Sharks scrum-half Jaden Hendrickse was red-carded soon after the break.
“We caused a few of our own problems with some of the turnovers, a couple of intercepts and some poor passes (which) allowed them into the game. We were a bit edgy and untidy,” said Gatland.
“I think it is what (is) coming in the Test matches in terms of the South African team coming pretty hard and trying to put us under pressure.
“We need to make sure we are a bit more accurate and tidy. I thought we did that a lot better in the second half.”