Warren Gatland is confident the British & Irish Lions’ Test series against South Africa will survive the Covid-hit early stages of the tour.

The Lions squad – including Carlisle star Chris Harris – was pitched into chaos this week when two members of their party tested positive for the virus.

It meant eight players were unable to be involved in the squad that faced Cell C Sharks at Emirates Airline Park on Wednesday, the Lions winning 54-7.

Gloucester centre and former Carlisle Rugby Club player Harris, who impressed on his Lions debut against Sigma Lions last weekend, was among the players not involved.

The side’s next game against Vodacom Bulls this Saturday had already been postponed because of Covid cases in the home camp, with the Lions having now arranged another game against Cell C Sharks instead, but head coach Gatland expects the Test series, starting on July 24, to survive.

“I honestly believe that we will have a Test series,” he said.

“We spoke beforehand and our medics said the likelihood of being in South Africa is that we’ll probably get a case or two and it’s how we deal with it.

“The players have been incredibly vigilant. South Africa are probably in a worse situation than us [in terms of Covid] but hopefully we’ve got some time in the next couple of weeks to get everyone right and get a good Test series and make sure we’re safe and secure in our bubbles.”

The Lions party have confirmed a second game against the Sharks will replace the scheduled Bulls fixture on Saturday.

Gatland said of the Covid cases in the Lions party: “My understanding is that one of the positives is a very weak positive and if he is re-tested and it’s negative then his close contacts should be okay.

“We’ll probably need to wait for that. Then I will need a report back from the medical team about how the players are.”

Of Wednesday’s game, which involved a hastily rejigged squad, he added: “It was quite a surreal challenge. We had to make quite a few changes, but I’m incredibly proud of the players.”

Harris attracted praise for his display against Sigma Lions on his debut for the famous touring team.