Lockie Ferguson will make a timely return from injury for a New Zealand XI in two Twenty20 warm-up matches against England.

The paceman has been out of action since suffering a fractured thumb training in Sri Lanka last month.

Ferguson is now fully fit and will face Eoin Morgan's side in a team captained by Colin Munro at Bert Sutcliffe Oval in Lincoln on Sunday and next Tuesday.

He said: "The thumb has healed well and I'm looking forward to having a hit-out at Lincoln.

"While it's obviously frustrating to be sidelined, it's actually been good to take some time to freshen up and be able to return with plenty of motivation and energy.

"It's the beginning of a really big summer of cricket and it's exciting to be starting it against a quality England side."

A five-match T20 series between the Black Caps and England starts in Christchurch on November 1.

John Mitchell wished New Zealand good luck if they want to spy on England ahead of the Rugby World Cup semi-final but says it would not give them an advantage.

England head coach Eddie Jones claimed someone was spotted filming England's training session on Tuesday.

Jones said it may have been a Japanese fan seen in an apartment overlooking the pitch, but admitted he used to spy on opponents.

Defence coach Mitchell does not believe the All Blacks would gain anything from seeing how England were preparing for a titanic battle in Yokohama City on Saturday.

"If that is what they want to do, and that is the way they want to prepare, good luck to them," the New Zealander said.

He added: "We just happened to be training where there are apartments above our tiny two-metre fence, so I am not sure about what the use of the tarpaulins are.

"The facilities have been excellent but it's an area where people live and there is the odd red light around. There was one up in the corner, which was a bit suspicious.

"It doesn't really worry me. This game is so dynamic now so I don't see any advantage in spying on a team."

Mitchell revealed spying is not uncommon at the highest level of rugby.

"When I took over the All Blacks in 2001 we had a manager who was highly military and he loved surveying the whole area," he said.

"To me, you can get too involved in it and create an anxiety in your group. There is enough pressure at this level without chasing around some blokes that might be in a building with a camera.

"I was with Sir Clive Woodward when we were going for a Grand Slam against Scotland and we chased somebody from one of the papers around the corner and caught him in a hedge.

"He was pretty unlucky actually but that was when the game was a lot different to what it is now. I've seen coaches spy, I've had other coaches spy. I've had mates spy as well, but I don't see any advantage."

Kieran Read is "100 per cent" fit for New Zealand's Rugby World Cup semi-final against England, insists head coach Steve Hansen.

Influential skipper Read was absent from the All Blacks' training session on Tuesday to spark fears over his availability for the mouth-watering showdown in Yokohama.

However, Hansen says Read was nursing a sore calf that New Zealand did not want to exacerbate in wet conditions.

"There is no issue. You didn't see him train because he was in the gym on the bike," Hansen said. 

"He got a tight calf from the game the other day and we didn't want to put him out on a wet track."

Pressed on if Read will face England, Hansen replied: "Yeah, 100 per cent."

Team-mate Sam Whitelock had a somewhat cheekier retort when asked about Read's absence from training.

"A bit of the banter around the team is that he didn't want to get wet today!" he said. 

"I'm sure he'll be fine. He's a tough man, he just didn't want to get wet."

England coach Eddie Jones described New Zealand as "the greatest team there's ever been in sport" ahead of the last-four meeting.

Hansen, while grateful for the compliment from his long-time friend, feels there may be a bit of kidology at play from a man renowned for a love of mind games.

"That's a really nice statement," Hansen said with a grin. "I'm sure Eddie believes that but he's also being quite kind.

"It's [kidology] a real thing but sometimes you're better not to go there. Eddie is a smart man. He knows me well, I know him." 

Chris Silverwood has no doubt England have recovered from their Cricket World Cup and Ashes exertions and are raring to go ahead of their tour of New Zealand.

England touched down in Christchurch on Tuesday for a five-game Twenty20 series and two Tests against the Black Caps, Silverwood's first assignment since taking over as head coach from Trevor Bayliss.

New Zealand lost a thrilling World Cup final to England on boundary count-back in July, while Bayliss signed off in September with a 2-2 draw in the Ashes that saw Australia retain the urn.

Silverwood does not expect his team to laud their World Cup success over the hosts and indicated they are ready for another challenge.

"I don't think it's been difficult getting them refreshed. We had a great summer but the adventure is lying ahead and to come back here and play cricket again we're very excited," he said.

"One or two are having a little break but its business as usual. Obviously, [T20 captain] Eoin Morgan has a strong hold on what he wants to do with the team and it's my job to back him and help him put things in place.

"I'm sure there'll be a few conversations [about the World Cup final], but we're here to concentrate on the series in front of us, which is always hard fought when we come out to New Zealand with two very good teams."

The Rugby World Cup semi-finals will feature the top four teams in world rugby after the rankings were updated following the quarter-finals.

England and South Africa, courtesy of their convincing wins over Australia and hosts Japan respectively, both climbed one place.

Eddie Jones' side moved above Wales into second, behind defending world champions New Zealand - who England face on Saturday - and the Springboks leapfrogged Ireland.

Six Nations champions Wales beat France 20-19, though even a larger margin of victory would not have kept them from dropping down to third.

Japan had risen to their highest ever ranking after Australia's defeat to England, but the Wallabies moved back into sixth after the Brave Blossoms' loss to South Africa.

France are seventh, with Japan eighth, ahead of Scotland and Argentina, who complete the top 10.

Despite their exit at the hands of South Africa, Japan have won over many fans at the World Cup, with coach Jamie Joseph believing his side are well on their way to becoming a top-five team.

"The team has worked incredibly hard for three years, and this year we worked harder than we've worked ever before," Joseph told a news conference.

"That's put us in a really good position to strive for our goals, which is making the top five in the world."

England expect Jonny May and Jack Nowell to be fit for their Rugby World Cup semi-final against New Zealand, according to assistant coach Neal Hatley.

May scored two tries in England's dominant 40-16 victory over Australia on Saturday, helping Eddie Jones' side set up a last-four tie with the All Blacks, who thrashed Ireland.

However, England had cause for concern over May when the wing suffered a hamstring injury, while Nowell has also been dealing with a similar problem.

But Hatley has revealed both players are expected to be available for selection for Saturday's contest in Yokohama.

"It's fantastic where we are, all 31 being available for selection at the end of the week," said Hatley in a news conference.

"Jonny's bouncing around this morning. He has a small twinge and we'll assess where he is a little bit later today.

"He's in really good spirits, moving well, and we expect Jack to be fit for selection as well."

England last met reigning world champions New Zealand at Twickenham in November 2018, with the All Blacks edging out a 16-15 victory. Hatley, though, insists neither side should read too much into that previous meeting.

"I think the goal for us is to get better every day. I think we've improved, but they've improved as well. I don't think we can take a lot from what happened in Autumn," he added.

"You know, they were missing a few, we were missing a few, and I think both sides have improved since then, it's a whole different situation.

"We've got certain things that we'll l want to do in that first 15, 20 minutes and we need to focus on what we do right, then hopefully we'll replicate the same start."

Jones, meanwhile, lauded the current New Zealand side as the "greatest team" of all time - and not just in rugby union, either.

"We are playing the greatest team there has ever been in sport," he told reporters. "If you look at their record, I don't think there's a team that comes close to them for sustainability.

"Name me another team in the world that plays at the absolute top level that wins 90 per cent of their games.

"Now, talent doesn't matter. When you get to this stage of the tournament, it's about how strong the team is. The reason I took this job is because I saw a team that could be great and that was the challenge and they are starting to believe it."

Head coach Steve Hansen suggested New Zealand's Rugby World Cup pedigree was key as they thrashed Ireland 46-14 to reach the semi-finals in Japan.

The All Blacks came into Saturday's contest having lost two of their previous three fixtures against Ireland, including a 16-9 defeat in Dublin when the sides last met in November 2018.

However, the two-time defending world champions were emphatic winners on this occasion, running in seven tries to underline their status as tournament favourites ahead of a last-four meeting with England.

Ireland have never made it past the quarter-finals of a World Cup, which proved significant in Hansen's eyes.

"Experience is a funny thing, isn't it? What is it that you've experienced? That's the key," he said.

"Our young guys, a lot of them have been involved in championship-winning teams in Super Rugby, in big moments, and that's why you can select them with confidence. And they've played well in Test matches that we've selected them in.

"It was interesting, everyone was talking about how many [experienced players] Ireland had. Half of our 23 had played in a knockout tournament and won it, and that was the difference wasn't it?

"I'm not being disrespectful here in saying this, but Ireland's experience was not to win and we had 11 guys that actually had experience of winning.

"That's why you've got to be careful when you start talking about experience because sometimes just because you've played for a long time, you might have learned a lot of things that you don't want to learn or you may have learned nothing along the way.

"I was a bit like that when I played - I didn't learn much."

Asked if New Zealand had performed better with "a monkey on their back", Hansen replied: "I don't know if you can call it a monkey but we got reminded and reminded and reminded and reminded that we had lost to Ireland.

"And All Black teams don't need to be reminded that they've lost two games to Ireland, out of 38 [actually 32]. They know that and they don't forget it.

"We remember our losses way more than we remember the wins. So it's banked, it's not something that you go and talk about, just everyone knows it."

Steve Hansen congratulated Joe Schmidt and Rory Best for their achievements in the international game after New Zealand put an end to Ireland's Rugby World Cup hopes on Saturday.

The All Blacks ran in seven tries in a 46-14 triumph as they cruised through to a semi-final meeting with England, keeping alive their bid to lift the trophy for a third successive tournament.

Defeat for Ireland not only ends their campaign in Japan but also head coach Schmidt's six-year reign, as well as the playing career of captain Best.

New Zealand boss Hansen praised his opposite number's achievements during his time in charge of Ireland; Schmidt won the Six Nations three times, including a Grand Slam campaign in 2018.

Before fielding a question in his post-match news conference, Hansen spoke glowingly about his compatriot, and hooker Best, who announced in April he would be retiring after the World Cup.

"Firstly, before we talk too much about the game, I'd really like to take the opportunity on behalf of myself and the All Blacks to congratulate two men on the opposition - Rory Best and Joe Schmidt," Hansen said.

"Both had magnificent careers in their respective roles for Ireland.

"They've made a difference in their time and, it doesn't matter what team you play for, if you can make a difference while you're there then you've done your job.

"So both of those guys, I understand, are finishing up and we'd like to acknowledge them publicly, what a wonderful job they've done."

Joe Schmidt admitted Ireland had "been a little bit flat" throughout 2019 after their Rugby World Cup hopes were emphatically ended by ruthless New Zealand on Saturday.

The All Blacks were at their clinical best in a one-sided quarter-final in Tokyo, scoring seven tries to ease to a 46-14 triumph and set up a last-four clash with England next weekend.

Ireland were architects of their own downfall, though, particularly during a first half when they made a number of errors while allowing their opponents to open up a 22-0 lead by the interval.

After celebrating Grand Slam glory in the Six Nations in 2018, as well as a first win over New Zealand on home soil, Ireland have failed to hit the same heights this year, with their World Cup exit a disappointing end to Schmidt's reign.

"It wasn't just the 22 points [in the first half], it was all the ball we gave them," Schmidt said in his post-match interview.

"I think we missed touch with penalties for us to get good field position three times, and that just meant we were chasing our tail. They had so much ball in our half, in our 22, that it was very, very tough going.

"We had a few chances in that first half, I think one of the tries – the third one the All Blacks scored -  we had a really good gap on the inside and just didn't quite play, didn't quite have the feel.

"We have been a little bit flat all season, which is disappointing. We were great last year and just maybe come off the top of that and haven't been where we've wanted to be all year."

As well as their head coach, Ireland also said their farewells to skipper Rory Best, who suffered a heavy defeat in his final international outing.

The hooker thanked the departing Schmidt for taking his game to a new level during an emotional interview before going on a lap of honour with his children after concluding media duties.

"The crowd have been fantastic, as has the support I have received from home, from the fans, whether we're at home or away, my team-mates, the coaching staff and, in particular, Joe," Best said.

"He brought Irish rugby and probably my game in particular to a new level. A lot of credit must go to him."

An emotional Rory Best doffed his cap to New Zealand after the two-time defending champions ended the Ireland captain's career with a crushing 46-14 Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat.

The All Blacks were in a class of their own at Tokyo Stadium on Saturday, Aaron Smith claiming a quickfire first-half double and Beauden Barrett also crossing to put the holders 22-0 up at the break.

Codie Taylor, Matt Todd, George Bridge and Jordie Barrett touched down in the second half, with Ireland having to wait until 11 minutes from time for Robbie Henshaw to go under the posts and get them on the board before they were awarded a late penalty try.

New Zealand will face England in a blockbuster semi-final next week and Best was full of praise for Steve Hansen's men after they sent him into retirement on the back of a hammering.

The hooker said: "The All Blacks were fantastic tonight. We felt we prepared well, we felt we had a game plan, we felt we have enough in our armoury to beat them, but they came out of the blocks hard at us, put us on the back foot and like good sides do, they never let us off that again.

"I think they were just really, really clinical. They didn't let us get on the front foot and this is a front-foot, momentum game, especially in knockout rugby.

"The boys who are here will have to look back at this and see how they can get better, but right now you have to give enormous credit to the All Blacks - they were fantastic tonight."

Best was given a huge ovation when he was interviewed on the pitch after the match and the 37-year-old expressed his gratitude to head coach Joe Schmidt at the end of his reign.

"I've loved every minute of it," said Best. "The support that I've got from fans when we are at home and away, my team-mates, the coaching staff and public and in particular Joe, who is moving on.

"I think he brought Irish rugby and probably my game to a different level and a lot of credit and a lot of thanks must go to him."

In an interview with Omnisport last April, the great Brian O'Driscoll acknowledged Ireland would prefer the 2019 Rugby World Cup to be held 12 months earlier than scheduled.

How Joe Schmidt's men must have wished that had been the case on Saturday, as they suffered a humbling 46-14 defeat to a rampant New Zealand and exited the tournament at the quarter-final stage yet again.

In 2018, Ireland were almost unstoppable, racking up 11 wins from 12 Tests - including a Six Nations Grand Slam and an historic maiden home win over the All Blacks in November.

Their only defeat, at the hands of Australia in June, was swiftly avenged, as they followed up that loss in Brisbane with victories in Melbourne and Sydney to earn a first series victory in Australia since 1979.

Before that tour and the triumph over the All Blacks, though, O'Driscoll delivered an assessment that can now be viewed as startlingly prophetic. 

In the wake of Ireland's Grand Slam success, the former British and Irish Lions centre said: "Would we prefer to have the World Cup this September? Yes, we would, because of where we feel we're at versus the rest of the world.

"But 18 months is a long time in international rugby. It will give other teams an opportunity to build on the work they've done.

"South Africa won't be the side that they currently are in 18 months' time; they always get it together for a World Cup. France seem to be a side that will definitely improve. Wales have a lot of injuries [and will be stronger in future]. England are not going to be as disappointing as they were in this year's Six Nations.

"So there's lots of teams that have time to be able to right their wrongs in terms of recent form and make sure that they peak come Japan 2019."

Unfortunately for O'Driscoll and his countrymen, while several nations have improved significantly, Ireland's recent peak has undeniably passed.

A week on from last November's triumph over New Zealand, Ireland swept the major honours at the 2018 World Rugby awards, scooping the team of the year prize as Schmidt and Johnny Sexton were named coach of the year and player of the year respectively.

The following day, Schmidt announced his intention to stand down and end his coaching career after the World Cup. Ireland's fortunes have declined sharply ever since.

Defeats to England and Wales in this year's Six Nations saw the team finish third 12 months on from their Grand Slam glory.

If that represented a concerning dip, the alarm bells were certainly ringing by the time Schmidt's side were trounced 57-15 by England at Twickenham in August.

Skipper Rory Best said he and his team-mates were "nowhere near where we need to be", adding: "The only upside is that it is the middle of August not the middle of September."

Ireland won their remaining warm-up games against Wales and further much-needed optimism was provided when they recorded a comprehensive 27-3 win over Scotland in their opening Pool A fixture.

Yet it proved a false dawn.

A shock loss to hosts Japan six days on laid bare Ireland's issues once more and ultimately pressed Best and Co into the least enviable quarter-final slot, as opponents of the All Blacks.

Had the game taken place in 2018, Ireland would surely have fancied their chances.

Instead, this contest felt like a foregone conclusion from the outset and so it proved as a glittering era under Schmidt came to a painful end.

New Zealand remain right on course to retain the Rugby World Cup after they eased through to the semi-finals with a 46-14 thrashing of Ireland at Tokyo Stadium on Saturday.

The All Blacks ran in seven tries as they emphatically crushed their opponents, setting up a showdown with England - 40-16 winners over Australia in the first knockout tie of the 2019 tournament - in Yokohama next weekend.

As for Ireland, the heavy defeat means they are still yet to get beyond the last eight at a World Cup, a record seventh quarter-final exit bringing a disappointing end to Joe Schmidt's otherwise successful reign.

They had won two of the past three meetings between the teams but hopes of further success disappeared during an error-strewn opening half, New Zealand scoring 22 points without reply to make the result a formality with 40 minutes still left to play.

The All Blacks had opened their campaign in Japan with a hard-fought win over South Africa, but that heavyweight clash was a month ago, leading to suggestions rustiness could be an issue after cruising through the rest of their Pool B fixtures.

However, it soon became clear there was no need for head coach Steve Hansen to be concerned about his team being undercooked.

Aaron Smith darted over twice from close range in the first quarter, and even when Ireland did eventually threaten with ball in hand on the half-hour, miscommunication between Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls coughed up possession and New Zealand ruthlessly made them pay, Richie Mo'unga initially hacking the loose ball on before leaving it for Beauden Barrett to finish.

A sorry first half for Schmidt's team was summed up by a penalty decision being reversed, denying them a chance to get on the scoreboard before the break, while any remote idea of a comeback disappeared when Kieran Read's pass off the floor set up hooker Codie Taylor eight minutes into the second period.

Matt Todd and the excellent Bridge also crossed as New Zealand refused to show any mercy, though the former finished the game in the sin bin after Ireland were awarded a penalty try.

Robbie Henshaw had already crossed by then to make sure the Irish avoided the indignity of being shut out, yet the All Blacks deservedly had the last word when Beauden Barrett's pass put brother Jordie in at the right corner.

Vulnerable All Blacks? Forget about it!

Typhoon Hagibis forced the postponement of New Zealand's final group game against Italy, yet they did not take long to get back into the swing of things. An early show of physicality set the tone for a dominant display as they made a statement to those who have designs on ending their long reign as world champions.

Say it ain’t so, Joe…

This was not how Schmidt hoped his tenure would end. He had twice plotted defeats of his homeland previously, but there was to be no hat-trick. Still, he departs after over six years in charge having won three Six Nations titles, including completing the Grand Slam in 2018. Sadly for Ireland, they appear to have peaked a year too early in terms of the World Cup.

Sevu Reece and George Bridge add a "fearless" edge to New Zealand's squad for the Rugby World Cup quarter-final tie with Ireland, according to assistant coach Ian Foster.

Reece and Bridge have both impressed so far for the two-time defending champions in Japan and have made the cut for Steve Hansen's XV against Ireland on Saturday as two of the world's best teams face off.

The duo's inclusion sees Rieko Ioane and the experienced Ben Smith miss out on Hansen's 23-man squad, but Foster believes the World Cup debutants can be key.

"There is a little bit of fearlessness about them," Foster told a news conference.

"Some of it is probably because they haven't been at a World Cup before, they probably don't what is at stake, in some sense.

"But they are really sensible young men. They train hard, they play hard. When you haven't got Ben and Rieko in the group, that is a tough decision, because they are two pretty special people in our group.

"We just felt that George and Sevu have done enough. There is a bit of spark there and we will run with that."

Ireland lost to hosts Japan in their second outing but comfortable victories over Scotland, Russia and Samoa saw them progress, as they recovered some form following doubts coming into the tournament.

Foster sees confidence and momentum as the deciding factors in this last-eight tie.

"I am pretty sure they will have some tricks up their sleeve, and we like to think we have got a couple up our sleeve," he added.

"That is the nature of preparing for a big Test match. But to be honest, games like this are often not about a special trick or surprise. It is about your confidence, how you deal with the pressure and how you keep executing your own game.

"It is one thing to know each other's game, it's another to execute it properly and to stop the other person doing it. That is what play-offs are about, it is about having that composure to trust yourself and really back yourself to keep doing what you do well."

Former New Zealand international Jeetan Patel has been appointed England spin bowling consultant for the five-match Twenty20 series against the Black Caps.

The Warwickshire captain has been given special dispensation from Cricket Wellington to miss the first three matches of the Plunket Shield season and will join up with the England squad in Christchurch next week.

Patel played 43 ODIs, 24 Tests and 11 T20 Internationals over an 11-year period and has continued to thrive in first-class cricket in the twilight of his career.

New Zealand Cricket and Cricket Wellington fully support Patel with his assignment in the England set-up under new head coach Chris Silverwood as he makes plans to become a coach when he calls time on his playing days.

The first T20 begins at Hagley Oval on November 1.

 

The Rugby World Cup enters the knockout phase this weekend, with Ireland looking to finally reach a semi-final and Japan bidding to cause another upset.

Joe Schmidt's team may have beaten two-time reigning champions New Zealand in two of their previous three meetings, but Ireland have a rotten record in World Cup quarter-finals.

Hosts Japan face South Africa – the team they stunned in the pool stage four years ago – in their first World Cup quarter-final, while Wales meet France and England take on an Australia side they have an excellent recent record against.

Here, we take a look at the Opta data for the four quarter-final clashes.

 

England v Australia

6 - England have dominated the Wallabies of late, winning each of their previous half a dozen meetings since Australian Eddie Jones was hired as head coach in 2015.

7 - No player won more turnovers than Maro Itoje's seven in the pool stage and the England forward only featured in two of his team's three matches.

29 - Jones' side averaged 29 kicks in play per game during the pool stage – the most of any team – while Australia, with 13, averaged the fewest.

New Zealand v Ireland

7 - Ireland are in their seventh World Cup quarter-final and have lost all of their previous six matches at this stage – the joint most last-eight losses, along with Scotland.

17 - The All Blacks have won a record 17 consecutive World Cup games coming into this encounter – a run that dates back to a quarter-final defeat to France in 2007.

29 - New Zealand have scored a try in each of their last 29 World Cup matches, last failing to do so in 2003.

Wales v France

8 - In the eight meetings between these two nations since Les Bleus beat Wales in the 2011 World Cup semi-finals, Warren Gatland's team have won seven times. Only the All Blacks have beaten France more often in that span (10 times).

4 - Wales won all four of their pool-stage matches for the first time since 1987. They have never won five World Cup games in a row.

6 - Since the start of 2018, France have lost six Tests in which they have been leading at half-time – the most such defeats of any side in that time. One of those came against Wales when they were 16 points ahead at the interval.

Japan v South Africa

3 - Japan's 34-32 victory over South Africa at the 2015 World Cup was their first over a Tier One nation. Since then they have won two of their three games against such opponents, beating Ireland and Scotland in this tournament.

5 - Kotaro Matsushima is one of the leading try-scorers at this World Cup, along with Wales wing Josh Adams, having crossed five times.

47 - The Springboks won 47 out of 47 lineouts on their own throw in the pool stage, the only side in the tournament to maintain a 100 per cent success rate.

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