An unbeaten century from BJ Watling helped push New Zealand into a lead in the first Test against England in Mount Maunganui on Saturday.

Watling (119 not out) was the star at Bay Oval, making his eighth Test century as the Black Caps reached 394-6 in their first innings.

England were lacklustre on day three – Watling was dropped by Ben Stokes on 31 – and were left trailing by 41 runs heading into Sunday.

They took just two wickets, but only after handy contributions from Henry Nicholls (41) and Colin de Grandhomme (65) for New Zealand.

The Black Caps had resumed at 144-4 in response to England's 353 and the hosts survived a couple of early scares.

England wasted a review on an lbw shout against Nicholls, who was on 30, before the left-hander needed one of his own after being given out on 39.

The big chance fell to Stokes off Joe Root (1-31), but the star all-rounder dropped Watling, then on 31, in what would prove a costly mistake.

Just two balls later and Root got Nicholls lbw, but De Grandhomme entered and contributed strongly alongside Watling.

De Grandhomme was dropped on 62 by Rory Burns, who also hurt his hand in the process, on his way to a 119-run partnership with Watling.

Stokes struck with the first ball after tea thanks to a brilliant low catch by debutant Dom Sibley to remove De Grandhomme.

Watling reached his century and was later given lbw to Jofra Archer (0-84), but a review showed an edge and he survived.

That capped a frustrating day for England, with Mitchell Santner (31) unbeaten alongside Watling at stumps.

Tom Blundell is on standby to replace Henry Nicholls against England if the New Zealand batsman is ruled out of the remainder of the first Test.

Nicholls was struck on the helmet by a bouncer from England paceman Jofra Archer in the penultimate over on day two at Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui.

The 28-year-old was able to remain at the crease and was unbeaten on 26 at stumps, with the Black Caps 144-4 in reply to the tourists' 353 all out.

Nicholls will undergo concussion tests and Blundell will replace him if he is unable to continue.

New Zealand paceman Tim Southee said: "He's a pretty tough character so he'll rest up tonight, a couple of Panadol and be back out there.

"He'll be assessed later on tonight and again in the morning, that's the protocol.

"He's shaping up all right at the moment so fingers crossed he'll be right."

Sam Curran took the big scalp of Kane Williamson for 51 after also removing Tom Latham.

Ben Stokes earlier top-scored with 91 for England, with Southee taking 4-86 in an opening match of the series that is nicely poised.

Jack Leach admitted England came up short of their target with the bat against New Zealand but he was heartened by an apparently deteriorating pitch at Bay Oval.

The left-armer was the not-out batsman as England were dismissed for 353, having at one stage been 277-4 in the first of two Tests.

England made strong headway with the ball as the Black Caps were reduced to 144-4, with the key wicket of captain Kane Williamson for 51 providing a boost for the tourists late in the day.

It was the nature of that dismissal, brought about by Sam Curran's viciously bouncing length delivery, that offered added encouragement to Leach.

"The ball from Sam Curran to get Kane Williamson misbehaved and that's a good sign when you've got runs on the board," said Leach, who accounted for opener Jeet Raval.

"We would have liked to have got more runs, we were aiming for at least 400.

"We wanted that big score and we wanted a century in there and that's something we're working hard to do.

"Hopefully that'll come in the second innings."

Tim Southee, who posted figures of 4-88, conceded the loss of talisman Williamson with the close of the day's play in sight was a bitter pill to swallow, but he was pleased to have limited the damage England could do in their first innings.

"It would have been nice to be three down but we've still got batting to come," he said.

"I thought we bowled well [on Thursday] and we got our rewards for that now. We would have taken 6-112 at the start of the day."

England battled to a good position after the late scalp of Kane Williamson left New Zealand 144-4 at stumps on day two of the first Test on Friday.

A Sam Curran delivery caught New Zealand captain Williamson (51) off guard in the final session in Mount Maunganui, where the Black Caps closed the day 209 runs adrift with six wickets in hand.

After Tom Latham (8), Jeet Raval (19) and Ross Taylor (25) fell cheaply in response to England's 353, Williamson posted his 31st Test half-century before exiting to Curran (2-28).

Henry Nicholls (26 not out) survived a scary blow to the helmet off the bowling of Jofra Archer as he and BJ Watling (6 not out) saw out the remaining overs.

Earlier in the day, New Zealand produced an honest performance with the ball, having toiled on day one against England.

An eventful morning session saw Tim Southee (4-88) produce a three-wicket burst to put England on the back foot – Ben Stokes (91) the first to go after the tourists resumed on 241-4.

Stokes – who started the day on 67 – fell nine runs short of his third Test century in five matches when Taylor held on to a catch first slip.

Southee struck three times in 11 balls as he also dismissed Ollie Pope (29) and Curran (0), with Archer (4) negotiating the hat-trick ball only to fall to Trent Boult (1-97) the following over.

From the relative comfort of 277-4 to 295-8, England found themselves in trouble until Jos Buttler (43) and Jack Leach (18 not out) added some valuable runs to lead the visitors past 350 before Neil Wagner (3-90) wrapped things up following lunch.

Ben Stokes is the scalp most prized by Neil Wagner after the England batsman finished day one of the first Test with New Zealand on 67 not out.

The tourists overcame a slow start and recovered from 120-3 to reach 241-4 by the close at Bay Oval.

Stokes – described by Wagner as "a bit of a freak" – was key to their revival, compiling his timely knock patiently as he faced 114 balls, sending nine to the boundary rope.

The all-rounder has proven a thorn in the Black Caps' side before, most notably in a superlative display at the Cricket World Cup final in July.

And left-arm seamer Wagner is determined not to give Stokes any more footage for his ever-expanding highlights reel.

"Ben is that sort of a player," said Wagner. "He is a special talent and he is a bit of a freak at times.

"For us, everyone wants to get him out because you know how important a wicket he is."

At the top of the order, Rory Burns made a half century but could have been sent packing with only 10 runs to his name when he appeared to edge Trent Boult.

However, the appeal was tame and dismissed, with no review taken, which proved a mistake – although an understandable one, according to Wagner.

"It's quite a tough ground. There was another one that sounded like a nick and was nowhere near the bat," he explained.

"When it's windy – and you don't always feel that from the grass banks – it's quite hard to hear those things.

"There was a little bit of a noise [for the Burns chance] but it was a bob each way; [sometimes] you want to take that risk but also you want to keep hold of them for when you do need them."

England made a solid start to the first Test against New Zealand thanks largely to Joe Denly and Ben Stokes on Thursday.

Denly (74) and Stokes (67 not out) helped England reach 241-4 at stumps on day one after the tourists opted to bat in Mount Maunganui.

Rory Burns (52) also made a half-century as Chris Silverwood's team stayed patient at Bay Oval to put themselves in a decent position.

Colin de Grandhomme (2-28) was the pick of New Zealand's bowlers, while Tim Southee (1-46) and Neil Wagner (1-77) also took wickets.

But Stokes, given a late life, and Ollie Pope (18) managed to get to stumps on a fine opening day for England.

After England decided to bat under sunny skies, Burns and debutant Dom Sibley made a good start.

Burns was lucky to survive when on 10, appearing to edge Trent Boult (0-61) behind, only to be given not out as the Black Caps opted not to review.

England had scored heavily through the leg side early in the day before De Grandhomme struck, Sibley (22) edging to Ross Taylor at first slip.

Denly joined Burns as the tourists continued to enjoy the better start to the Test, the latter escaping an lbw review when on 44.

After Burns brought up his fifth Test 50, De Grandhomme delivered another breakthrough for New Zealand as the opener edged through to BJ Watling.

Joe Root (2) had struggled as the Black Caps kept things tight, the England captain's 22-ball stay ending when he edged to Southee off Wagner.

They were the wickets New Zealand needed before tea, and Denly brought up his fifth Test half-century with a brilliant drive off Wagner after the break.

Stokes and Denly looked comfortable approaching stumps, but the second new ball brought the hosts another wicket.

A ball after another fine boundary, Denly edged Southee and a diving Watling took a good catch to his right.

New Zealand squandered a great chance late in the day, Taylor dropping Stokes – who was on 67 – at slip off Boult to ensure England were left in a fine position.

Kane Williamson explained it was a "tough" decision to leave Lockie Ferguson out of the New Zealand side for the first Test against England but insisted the paceman's time will come.

The uncapped Ferguson, 28, will not make his debut when the first-ever Test at Bay Oval gets under way on Thursday, with Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner getting the nod.

Black Caps captain Williamson hinted that the rapid Ferguson, outstanding in the Cricket World Cup, could make his bow in the longest format in the near future.

Williamson said of the bowler's omission for the start of the two-match series: "It was tough.

"We know what he can bring - he's certainly not far away and he's an exciting prospect.

"He brings something a little different which is really exciting, no doubt he's raring to go if and when that opportunity comes. His name will always be discussed."

He added: "The three that we've gone with are guys that have been in the group for a long period of time and performed really well for us, so I know they're looking forward to getting back into Test cricket.

"It's great to have so many guys in the environment who are very much raring to go and all offering different things."

All-rounder Todd Astle was released from the New Zealand squad along with Ferguson.

For England, opening batsman Dom Sibley will make his debut and Ollie Pope returns while Sam Curran was preferred to Chris Woakes in Mount Maunganui.

Dom Sibley will open the batting for England in the first Test against New Zealand, while Sam Curran has been given the nod ahead of Chris Woakes.

The opening clash of the two-match series begins in Mount Maunganui on Thursday, with debutant Sibley joining Rory Burns at the top of the order.

Curran has been preferred to fellow all-rounder Woakes in a line-up unchanged from the three-day warm-up fixture with New Zealand A.

Warwickshire star Sibley scored 14 in that match, in which England batted for only one innings and settled for a draw.

He was the stand-out performer in the 2019 County Championship season, scoring 1,324 runs at an average of 69.68.

England, who beat the Black Caps in the Cricket World Cup final and won the T20 series 3-2, have won only two of their last 11 Test series away from home.

England team to face New Zealand: 

Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Joe Denly, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Jofra Archer, Jack Leach, Stuart Broad.

England paceman Jofra Archer still underestimates his own talent, according to captain Joe Root.

Archer is only four games into his Test career, but has taken 22 wickets at an average of 20.27 and shapes as being a key in England's series against New Zealand.

But Root said the 24-year-old needed to have more belief in his own abilities ahead of the series opener in Mount Maunganui starting on Thursday.

"Jofra adds something slightly different to what we had previously, but one thing he underestimates is his own talent," Root said, via the Daily Mail.

"That pace through the air can be a big skill on its own. I want him to enjoy bowling, and to come away from here learning there is more than one way of taking wickets. He doesn't have to be seaming or swinging it round corners.

"He makes it look ridiculously easy with his action and the way he approaches the crease.

"But to be able to bowl at that pace for a period of time is a skill in itself, and I think he needs to understand that."

England named their team for the first game on Wednesday, with opener Dom Sibley set for his Test debut.

Meanwhile, New Zealand released Lockie Ferguson and Todd Astle from their squad.

Gary Stead says New Zealand have the pace attack to "fight fire with fire" in the Test series against England.

The Black Caps and Joe Root's side start the two-match series at Mount Maunganui on Thursday following a 3-2 T20I triumph for the tourists.

Jofra Archer did not play in that series but was not holding back in two tour matches in Whangarei ahead of the Test leg of the trip, but head coach Stead feels uncapped fast bowler Lockie Ferguson can add another dimension to New Zealand's attack.

"Jofra Archer will be a threat. He is a point of difference. But he can only bowl from one end," Stead said.

"And we've someone in our squad who bowls at a similar type of speed in Lockie Ferguson. It's really exciting to be able to fight fire with fire in some ways.

"And it's exciting that there's a potential debut for him at some stage as well. I think it's really good in terms of the balance of the squad that we have five pace bowlers who all offer us slightly different things.

"He added: "England are a fine Test team. They've got some real world-class players. We'll have to be somewhere near the top of our game throughout the whole series.

"We just want to be as competitive as we can, take the games deep and hopefully if we do that then you get on the right side of some of the results when you get to the back end of games.

"It sounds like Archer bowled fast in Whangarei. Every time he's bowled, he's bowled with heat so I don't think that's a big surprise to anyone. He's a world-class player and he started in the Ashes with a real hiss and a roar.

"For us it's about getting used to that extra pace and then combating it and working out a way you can continue to score."

Warren Gatland still harbours ambitions to one day coach his native New Zealand despite having turned down the chance to apply for the role.

The All Blacks are on the hunt for a new head coach following the end of Steve Hansen's reign, which returned two Rugby World Cup triumphs and a run to the semi-finals of this year's tournament in Japan.

Gatland also ended his 12-year reign with Wales after the World Cup and was tipped as potential successor to Hansen.

However, the 56-year-old had already signed a four-year deal with Super Rugby side Chiefs, during which time he will take a year out to coach the British and Irish Lions for a third time.

Gatland said the timing of the All Blacks opportunity was not right but discussions with New Zealand's high performance manager Mark Anthony left the door ajar in future.

Asked if he would still like to coach New Zealand, Gatland told The Guardian: "Absolutely.

"I went back and gave my reasons why I just couldn't apply for the job right now. I've got it on my phone."

Gatland fell agonisingly short of ending his Wales tenure with at least an appearance in the World Cup final as his side went down 19-16 to champions South Africa in a tense last-four clash.

Had Wales found a way past the Springboks, Gatland is convinced Wales could have beaten England in the final.

"I thought if we beat South Africa, even with injuries, I would've gone into the game against England feeling we could win the World Cup," he said. 

"There wasn't that fear factor against England. It would have been different if the All Blacks had won their semi-final. For some of the Welsh players the All Blacks are still on a pedestal because New Zealand’s the one team we haven't beaten. 

"But against England, psychologically, we would have been confident because the guys have had success and we had an effective game plan. 

"The results have been 50-50 and, knowing you're capable of beating them, makes a massive difference."

England's own place in the final was booked with a barnstorming victory over New Zealand, a performance Gatland opined would be difficult to replicate.

That drew a retort from Eddie Jones that Gatland should enjoy the third-place play-off fixture.

But Gatland said the comments from both men were not said with hostility.

"I wasn't actually referring to England," Gatland said. "And Eddie wasn't being malicious in his comment. 

"Eddie and I often laugh about this because it's a game. What I meant is that if you look at previous World Cups the only team that has beaten the All Blacks and gone on to win it is Australia. 

"Emotion plays a massive part in big games. It's very difficult, at the highest level of sport, to be right on the edge emotionally and repeat that the following week."

Jamie Joseph is out of contention to become New Zealand head coach after committing his future to Japan.

The former All Blacks forward was thought to be among the front-runners to replace Steve Hansen, who departed after their Rugby World Cup defence ended in semi-final defeat to England.

However, Joseph joins the likes of Warren Gatland, Joe Schmidt and John Mitchell in opting not to pursue arguably the most coveted job in world rugby.

Joseph has instead extended his contract with Japan through to December 2023, having guided the Cherry Blossoms to an unprecedented World Cup quarter-final on home soil.

"I have great expectations for rugby in Japan and I'm very honoured that I can lead the team towards the next World Cup," Joseph said via a statement on the Japan Rugby Football Union's official website.

"We achieved the goal of being among the top eight countries in the World Cup, but there are still more issues to be tackled.

"To that end, I chose the path to challenge with the Japanese national team again. I want to strengthen the team."

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, Ian Foster - who served as assistant to Hansen - and Glasgow Warriors boss Dave Rennie are thought to be on the shortlist to replace Hansen, who led New Zealand to World Cup glory in 2011 and 2015.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck became just the fifth New Zealander to win the prestigious men's Golden Boot award on Sunday.

Tuivasa-Sheck scooped the prize, which is awarded to the best international player of the year, ahead of Tonga prop Siosiua Taukeiaho and New Zealand team-mate Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

The 26-year-old returned from a 12-month international absence to help his country defeat Tonga 34-14 in the Oceania Cup Test and also featured in a 2-0 series triumph over Great Britain.

He also ran 167 metres and set up his team's only try in the 26-4 defeat to Australia.

"Putting on the black and white jersey and representing my country is always a privilege and winning this Golden Boot award is a huge honour," said Tuivasa-Sheck.

"Thank you to the IRL, NZRL and, of course, my family, as without their love and support, none of this would be possible.

"This year's campaign has been one to remember, and although being away from my family was difficult, this makes it all worth it, this award is for them."

Australia star Jessica Sergis enhanced her standing as one of the best in the world by taking home the women's Golden Boot.

Ben Stokes does not expect England to have any problem with focus going into the Test series with New Zealand as their incredible 2019 nears its conclusion.

Stokes enjoyed a starring role in England's incredible World Cup final triumph over the Black Caps and then played one of the greatest Test innings of all time to inspire a remarkable one-wicket victory in the third Ashes encounter against Australia at Headingley.

England were ultimately unable to regain the Ashes in captivating series that finished 2-2, but Stokes insists he and the rest of the team will be able to put all that behind them as they gear up for a two-Test rubber with New Zealand.

Joe Root's side travel to South Africa in December, England facing the Proteas in four Tests before Eoin Morgan leads them in three ODIs and three T20s.

"When you're touring and representing your country it doesn't take too much to get you going," Stokes told the BBC's Test Match Special.

"The thing about our winter is that it's pretty hectic again, we've got so much to focus on that summer 2019's pretty much been and gone. All the focus in the dressing room is what have we got coming ahead."

Stokes was speaking after day one of England's tour match against New Zealand A in Whangarei, where there were brief fears for the fitness of Root after he took a blow to the leg.

"At one point we were discussing whether he'd hurt his knee, ankle or hamstring," Stokes added. 

"Thankfully it was neither, he just took a bump on his leg from stopping the ball, sort of got a dead leg. It was good to see him running back on the field."

Mick McCarthy admitted Robbie Brady is still lacking match fitness after watching the midfielder lead the Republic of Ireland to victory over New Zealand.

Brady set up Ireland's equaliser in their 3-1 friendly win on Thursday when his corner was headed in by Derrick Williams.

But captain-for-the-night Brady left manager McCarthy seemingly unconvinced about his readiness for the biggest battles.

And that may mean he has to settle for a substitute role in Monday's crunch Euro 2020 qualifier against Denmark.

"I think Robbie needs more game time. I don't think he's fully match sharp to be playing and he needs games," McCarthy told RTE. "Yes he can play because he played tonight and yes he's played for Burnley.

"But is he really match-hardened, like 10, 12, 15 games? He’s not and I think he felt that tonight. But he's delighted with being the captain and he's done OK."

McCarthy saw flaws in Ireland's performance, saying that in the early stages "our intensity wasn't that great" but stressing the display was "far better" In the second half.

He was delighted with man of the match Sean Maguire, who scored a brilliant first international goal to cap an enterprising all-round performance.

"He was excellent," said McCarthy, "and he was in training as well this week. He got a great goal – it was a terrific finish."

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