Rain stopped play as England turned the screw after tea on the fourth day of the second Test in Sri Lanka.

Angelo Mathews (88) appeared to have steered Sri Lanka into a strong position with a performance that helped drag the hosts away from early struggles that had left them 26-3 in pursuit of a 301-run victory target.

But his dismissal shortly after tea at Pallekele, and the subsequent wicket of Dilruwan Perera, allowed England to build a head of steam and left the home side on 226-7.

Dilruwan's wicket was the final action of the day as an evening downpour brought about an early finish and gave Sri Lanka time to ponder a route to the remaining 75 runs required, with only three wickets remaining.

A stellar batting display from Joe Root on Friday looked to have put England in firm control, and the early scalps of Kaushal Silva, Dhananjaya de Silva and Kusal Mendis on Saturday certainly strengthened their bid for a first away series win since 2015-16.

The trio fell during a devastating period from Jack Leach (4-73), who accounted for all three in the space of three of his overs.

Opener Dimuth Karunaratne (57) found a more stable batting partner in Mathews and the pair combined for 77 runs for the fourth wicket to haul Sri Lanka back into the contest.

Karunaratne was ultimately caught behind off Adil Rashid (1-52) but Mathews was assisted ably by his fellow middle-order batsmen Roshen Silva (37) and Niroshan Dickwella (27 not out).

Sri Lanka reached tea on 219-5, needing only 82 for victory.

However, their challenge was significantly weakened when Moeen Ali trapped Mathews lbw, before Dilruwan - who had survived on review in the previous over - also walked after being pinned in front by the impressive Leach.

The covers were hurried on as Dilruwan returned to the pavilion and the rest of the day's play was abandoned soon after.

New Zealand-born centre Bundee Aki will be fired up to play against the All Blacks for Ireland on Saturday, according to Kieran Marmion.

Aki will play at 12 at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday when the Irish bid to defeat the only team above them in the Test rankings.

Although he hails from Auckland, the 28-year-old made his international debut for Ireland last November, having been with club side Connacht since 2014.

And Marmion believes the prospect of facing New Zealand this weekend will only serve as an inspiration to Aki.

"Playing the All Blacks won't bother him too much," Marmion told the Irish Times.

"It will probably just fire him up a bit more. We expect Bundee to go straight into them; he won't hold back. He will relish the challenge. It will be a pretty good spectacle to watch."

Marmion has spent the week sharing a room with his Connacht colleague and revealed that Aki is champing at the bit to play.

"He chatted quite a bit to me about it and I know he can't wait to get out there and have a shot at these guys," Marmion added.

"I am sure he will know he needs to stay calm and not be stupid. I am sure he is smart enough to that, as well.

"They will come looking for him, but he has played enough rugby and has enough experience to know not to do anything stupid. He is a tough lad so he will get on with it."

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) will begin the search for a new chief executive after Steve Brown announced he will stand down from the post at the end of the year.

Brown has been with the governing body for English rugby since 2011 and was the managing director of the organising committee for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

He took over as the RFU's chief executive since September 2017, with director of professional rugby Nigel Melville will fill the role on an interim basis until a full-time replacement is found.

"This has been a very difficult decision for me to make, and I informed the RFU board earlier this week that the time is right for me to step down and take some time out," Brown said.

"I've loved my time in rugby and am deeply proud to have made a contribution to a sport I love."

Joe Root was pleased to lead by example after his superb century boosted England's hopes of a series-clinching victory in Pallekele.

After overcoming a scratchy start, Root blossomed to make 124 from 146 deliveries on day three of the second Test against Sri Lanka, helping the tourists reach 324-9 before heavy rain cut short the final session.

Still, despite the damp finish to proceedings, England's overall outlook is bright. They hold a 278-run lead and, on a wearing pitch, will hope their trio of spinners can secure an unassailable 2-0 lead with one Test remaining.

Having called for his batsmen to play positively in tough conditions prior to the tour, Root was happy to back up his words with an aggressive knock that included 10 fours and two sixes.

"They're all different, but that was a thoroughly enjoyable one today," the Yorkshireman said of his 15th Test ton in an interview with Sky Sports.

"Obviously it was quite challenging on that surface but the most pleasing thing for me was that I've asked the guys to play in a certain manner when we've come to this part of the world and in these conditions, so you want to set the example and lead from the front, play in that manner yourself.

"For it to come off as it did today is really pleasing.

"You look at the group of players we've got and it suits their natural games. You've got to play your advantage and we've certainly done that on this tour so far with the bat.

"You're not going to get it right all the time but we've given ourselves a really good chance, especially now in this game.

"If we bowl pretty well on that surface, hopefully we will be able to create at least 10 chances."

The right-handed batsman admitted it was tough going in the early stages of his innings, describing his batting like a "reverse swan" as he looked frantic on the outside but remained somewhat calm underneath.

"To start, I felt a bit all over the place at the start, a bit hectic," he added. "It was like a reverse swan, as I felt calm underneath but my legs were flapping on the outside.

"It was just about trying to get the bowlers to bowl in the areas you wanted them to. Take a few risks early and get used to the surface and how it was playing.

"Once I got to 20-odd, got a few boundaries away, I felt I was picking length pretty well in terms of sweeping. It sort of made things a lot easier, and from that point you figure out a good method of how to play on that surface."

Root also praised top-order duo Rory Burns and Keaton Jennings, who made 59 and 26 respectively to help erase a small first-innings deficit following the early departure of nightwatchman Jack Leach.

"We kept the board going at a really good rate, especially in that first session," the skipper said.

"Credit to the guys for coming out and playing that way. We lost Leach early and, looking at the scoreboard with a bit of a deficit, the temptation is to go into your shell.

"But the guys played with freedom and a lot of courage, as well as showing respect to the good balls out there."

Ireland flanker Dan Leavy has failed a fitness test for Saturday's encounter with New Zealand so Josh van der Flier will replace him in the team.

Leavy, who has won 11 caps for the Irish, had been named in Joe Schmidt's starting line-up despite not training on Thursday and after being assessed again a day later, it was determined a "general tightness" would prevent him from facing the All Blacks.

In his absence, Leinster team-mate Van der Flier with make his 12th international appearance in a clash between the two top-ranked Test nations in Dublin.

Ulster's Jordi Murphy has now been added to the bench for Schmidt's side.

"It is something we had to deal with last week when Robbie [Henshaw] injured his hamstring in the warm-up, and in March 2017 against England we had to deal with it [at the] last minute with Jamie Heaslip," said captain Rory Best.

"Actually, Dan was the one who came onto the bench and came on quite early in that game. Josh trained yesterday, they all slot in the back row anyway. Josh, even on the bench, knows his role inside out. You are replacing a quality player with two more quality players."

New Zealand collapsed to the lowest first-innings total registered by any Test team in Abu Dhabi as Pakistan made a strong start to the series on Friday.

The Black Caps capitulated from 111-3 to 153 all out on a slow track and they would have been facing total humiliation but for a half-century from Kane Williamson (63).

Yasir Shah took 3-54, while the excellent Mohammad Abbas, Hasan Ali and Haris Sohail took two wickets apiece.

Pakistan were 59-2 at stumps, already trailing by just 94 runs despite openers Imam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Hafeez throwing their wickets away.

Williamson, passed fit after recovering from a groin injury, arrived at the crease earlier than he would have hoped after winning the toss, Jeet Raval (7) nibbling Abbas behind and Tom Latham (13) falling to a poor shot in Yasir's first over.

The tourists were 39-3 when Ross Taylor edged Yasir behind, but Williamson and Henry Nicholls dug in to prevent further damage from being done before lunch.

Nicholls struck Yasir for back-to-back boundaries and Williamson played with more freedom early in the afternoon session, the captain bringing up his half-century off 88 balls with a textbook cut.

But Abbas, whose 12 overs cost only 13 runs, struck again when Nicholls (28) nicked through to Sarfraz Ahmed with a loose drive and New Zealand crumbled after Hasan (2-38) took two wickets in as many balls.

Williamson gloved behind down the leg side and Colin de Grandhomme was trapped leg before first ball, Haris then getting in on the act by removing Ish Sodhi (4) and BJ Watling (10).

New Zealand had lost seven wickets in 22 overs by the time Yasir rapped debutant Ajaz Patel on the pads in front, teenager Shaheen Afridi no doubt watching on enviously after missing out on a debut.

Imam - cleared to play a week after being struck on the helmet by a Lockie Ferguson bouncer - fell with a loose drive and Williamson took a second catch when Hafeez slapped a short ball from Trent Boult straight to him at midwicket.

It was Pakistan's day, though, after Haris (22 not out) Azhar Ali and (10no) denied New Zealand from making further inroads.

Joe Root made a brilliant attacking century to give England a substantial lead despite Akila Dananjaya's six-wicket haul on day three of the second Test against Sri Lanka in Pallekele.

Root went on the attack to give the tourists a great chance of winning the series with a match to spare, the captain scoring a masterful 124 from only 146 balls.

Rory Burns (59) hit a maiden Test half-century and Ben Foakes continued his dream start to his England career with an unbeaten 51 on a pitch offering plenty of turn on Friday.

Dananjaya, reported for a suspect bowling action in the first Test, took Test-best figures of 6-106 but England were 324-9 with a lead of 278 when play was cut short due to bad light before the rain came.

Joe Leach succeeded with his task of seeing out one over as nightwatchman on day two, but failed to hang around in the morning session, Dilruwan Perera (2-87) trapping him leg before sweeping.

Keaton Jennings (26) and Burns moved England into a lead of 31 with a positive second-wicket stand of 73 before the former was caught at slip reverse-sweeping Dananjaya.

Burns did not allow the Sri Lanka bowlers to settle, striking the ball with power and running superbly between the wickets in a promising knock which included seven boundaries before Malinda Pushpakumara snared him lbw.

England were 109-4 when Perera pinned Ben Stokes leg before without scoring, but Root looked in great touch from the start of his innings and put on 74 for the fifth wicket with Jos Buttler. 

Buttler (34) played on attempting to reverse sweep Dananjaya, but Root continued to use his feet expertly, finding the boundary with apparent ease as he took on the spinners.

Root shifted through the gears after bringing up his half-century, Sri Lanka unable to contain the skipper, who continued to charge down the track, smashing Perera for six over midwicket before Moeen Ali departed cheaply.

The magnificent Root moved into the 90s by launching Dananjaya over the ropes and let out a roar after bringing up his 15th Test hundred by steering Suranga Lakmal to the third-man boundary just after tea.

Root was also undone sweeping Dananjaya, but the impressive Foakes had a half-century when he swatted Perera over the ropes after Dananjaya bowled Sam Curran first ball with a beauty and then removed Adil Rashid. 

Deteriorating light and a subsequent downpour brought a premature halt to what was England's day, Foakes still there brimming with confidence following his debut hundred in Galle.

Saturday's clash between Ireland and New Zealand sees the world's top two international teams face each other in Dublin, but the history of this fixture is decidedly one-sided.

The All Blacks have won 28 of the 30 matches between these teams, drawing once and losing a famous encounter in Chicago two years ago.

Trips to Dublin have invariably ended in victory for New Zealand, who have restricted Ireland to single figures on 10 of their past 15 visits.

Steve Hansen's men have won their last five matches in a row and are on a winning run of eight away from home - they have not lost in Europe since a 38-21 defeat to England in December 2012.

If they score 26 points this weekend, the All Blacks will surpass 500 for the third consecutive year, having failed to reach that marker in each of the eight years prior.

However, Ireland have every reason to be confident about their own chances.

Joe Schmidt's side have won 16 of their past 17 matches, and only three times in that period have they conceded more than 20 points in a single game.

The Six Nations Champions are also on their longest ever winning streak at home, carrying 10 consecutive victories at the Aviva Stadium into the fixture. That said, their last defeat in Dublin came at the hands of New Zealand in November 2016.

PLAYER STATS

- Ireland's Johnny Sexton (383) is just 14 points shy of eclipsing Ronan O'Gara (396) as the most prolific point scorer at the Aviva Stadium/Lansdowne Road in Test history. 
- New Zealand's Beauden Barrett has scored 106 Test points in 2018, the most of any player and one of just two (Handre Pollard, 100) to have reached a century this year. 
- Irish duo CJ Stander (157) and Bundee Aki (123) have made more carries than any other players in tier one of Test rugby in 2018 while New Zealand's Rieko Ioane (41) and Ben Smith (38) have beaten the most defenders this year. 
- Beauden Barrett (8) and Aaron Smith (7) have assisted more tries than any other players in the top tier of Test rugby in 2018.

THE TEAMS

Ireland: Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Johnny Sexton, Kieran Marmion; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, James Ryan, Peter O'Mahony, Dan Leavy, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Iain Henderson, Josh van der Flier, Luke McGrath, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour.

New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Ben Smith, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Karl Tu'inukuafe, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, Kieran Read.
Replacements: Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi, Nepo Laulala, Scott Barrett, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Richie Mo'unga, Anton Lienert-Brown.

STARTING XV COMPARISON

AVERAGE AGE
Ireland: 28 years 227 days
New Zealand: 27y 278d

AVERAGE HEIGHT
Ireland: 188cm
New Zealand: 188cm

AVERAGE HEIGHT (FORWARDS)
Ireland: 192cm
New Zealand: 193cm

AVERAGE HEIGHT (BACKS)
Ireland: 184cm
New Zealand: 182cm

PACK WEIGHT
Ireland: 890kg
New Zealand: 921kg

AVERAGE WEIGHT
Ireland: 103kg
New Zealand: 105kg

AVERAGE WEIGHT (FORWARDS)
Ireland: 111kg
New Zealand: 115kg

AVERAGE WEIGHT (BACKS)
Ireland: 94kg
New Zealand: 92kg

Data: Opta

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson has allayed fears he will miss the first Test against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi with a groin strain.

Scrum-half Embrose Papier has been selected to make his first international start when South Africa face Scotland on Saturday.

England captain Joe Root received the first demerit point of his career for breaching the ICC's code of conduct on a day when Sri Lanka claimed a 46-run lead in Pallekele.

Yoann Huget will win his first France cap in a year against Argentina this Saturday as one of two changes to Jacques Brunel's team.

The wing has 51 international caps but has not appeared for his country since a defeat to South Africa 12 months ago.

He will replace Damian Penaud after the left wing sustained an ankle injury in the first half of the loss to the Springboks last weekend.

In the other change to the French team, Gael Fickou will replace Geoffrey Doumayrou at inside centre.

France, who will be captained by Guilhem Guirado, have lost five games in a row and have not been defeated in six successive matches since a 10-game losing streak in 1968-69.

Argentina's team features just one change, with scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou replacing Tomas Cubelli.

Bertranou did not feature in the recent loss to Ireland but has otherwise been a regular for the Pumas this year.

 

France: Maxime Medard, Teddy Thomas, Mathieu Bastareaud, Gael Fickou, Yoann Huget, Camille Lopez, Baptiste Serin; Jefferson Poirot, Guilhem Guirado, Cedate Gomes Sa, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Yoann Maestri, Wenceslas Lauret, Arthur Iturria, Louis Picamoles.

Replacements: Camille Chat, Dany Priso, Rabah Slimani, Paul Gabrillagues, Mathieu Babillot, Antoine Dupont, Anthony Belleau, Benjamin Fall.

 

Argentina: Emiliano Boffelli, Bautista Delguy, Matias Orlando, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Ramiro Moyano, Nicolas Sanchez, Gonzalo Bertranou; Santiago Garcia Botta, Agustin Creevy, Santiago Medrano, Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lavanini, Pablo Matera, Guido Petti, Javier Ortega Desio.

Replacements: Julian Montoya, Juan Pablo Zeiss, Lucio Sordoni, Mariano Galarza, Rodrigo Bruni, Tomas Lezana, Tomas Cubelli, Matias Moroni.

Michael Cheika has handed debuts to Jordan Petaia and Jake Gordon, while Adam Ashley-Cooper will also start when Australia face Italy on Saturday.

Petaia, 18, will become the youngest Wallabies debutant since James O'Connor a decade ago when he starts on the left wing.

Scrum-half Gordon also gets his chance in Padova, with Cheika making six changes of personnel following the 9-6 defeat to Wales.

Ashley-Cooper will win his first cap for over two years on the right wing, so Israel Folau reverts to full-back.

Matt Toomua comes into the side at 10 with Bernard Foley moving to the centres alongside Samu Kerevi as Kurtley Beale drops to the bench.

Cheika has opted against resting captain Michael Hooper and David Pocock ahead of the showdown with England at Twickenham on November 24.

Full-back Jayden Hayward replaces Luca Sperandio in the only change to the Italy team following their 28-17 victory over Georgia.

 

Australia: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Samu Kerevi, Bernard Foley, Jordan Petaia, Matt Toomua, Jake Gordon; Scott Sio, Folau Fainga'a, Taniela Tupou, Izack Rodda, Adam Coleman, Jack Dempsey, Michael Hooper (captain), David Pocock.

Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Jermaine Ainsley, Sekope Kepu, Rory Arnold, Pete Samu, Will Genia, Kurtley Beale, Dane Haylett-Petty.

 

Italy: Jayden Hayward, Tommaso Benvenuti, Michele Campagnaro, Tommaso Castello, Mattia Bellini, Tommaso Allan, Tito Tebaldi; Andrea Lovotti, Leonardo Ghiraldini (captain), Simone Ferrari, Alessandro Zanni, Dean Budd, Sebastian Negri, Jake Polledri, Braam Steyn.

 

 

Liam Williams will win his 50th Wales cap against Tonga on Saturday while Dan Biggar will play at fly-half in a team featuring 14 changes.

Wing Williams, 27, made his international debut six years ago and, like Biggar, came on as a replacement last weekend in the 9-6 victory over Australia.

It was Biggar who slotted over the crucial 76th-minute penalty to earn his side a first win over the Wallabies in 10 years and he will form a half-back combination with Tomos Williams.

Wales, who will have debutant Jonah Holmes at full-back, will be captained by Ellis Jenkins, while Wyn Jones will make his first international start.

Lock Adam Beard is the only man to retain his place in the starting XV while Rhys Patchell is among the replacements.

"Saturday is a fantastic opportunity for a number of players," said Wales head coach Warren Gatland.

"It's Jonah's first game, which is exciting, and Liam reaches his 50th [cap], which is a great achievement.

"We are looking forward to the challenge of Tonga. They had a great win last weekend against the French Barbarians and we know it is going to be a tough, physical challenge.

"We have spoken about creating depth and for us that is all about creating a squad that is full of first-teamers, everyone in the squad capable of starting. The boys this weekend have to put their hand up for the final match and put pressure on the players who started last weekend.

"Ellis captains the team for the second time whilst making his first start at home and for Wyn, it is his first start.

"It's important to realise when selecting a team that we look at all these things in terms of experience, starts, depth balance and opportunity, and all that goes into the mix."

 

Wales: Jonah Holmes, Liam Williams, Tyler Morgan, Owen Watkin, Steff Evans, Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Elliot Dee, Leon Brown, Jake Ball, Adam Beard, Aaron Wainwright, Ellis Jenkins, Seb Davies.

Replacements: Ryan Elias, Rob Evans, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill, Ross Moriarty, Aled Davies, Rhys Patchell, Josh Adams.

Rob Kearney and Garry Ringrose return to the Ireland side as Joe Schmidt makes four changes for the clash with New Zealand.

Full-back Kearney and centre Ringrose have recovered from shoulder and hip injuries respectively to start at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

Dan Leavy comes in at openside flanker, while Devin Toner get the nod in the second row at the expense of Iain Henderson.

Leavy starts in place of Sean O'Brien, who suffered a broken arm during Ireland's 28-17 win over Argentina last Saturday.

Schmidt is also unable to call upon Robbie Henshaw and Conor Murray due to injuries for a showdown between the top two sides in the world rankings.

 

Ireland: Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Johnny Sexton, Kieran Marmion; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, James Ryan, Peter O'Mahony, Dan Leavy, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Iain Henderson, Josh van der Flier, Luke McGrath, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour.

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