New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson has offered no guarantees over All Blacks head coach Ian Foster's long-term future, stating "he’s certainly the person to lead the team to South Africa".

Foster came under increasing pressure after Ireland secured a first Test series win over the All Blacks in New Zealand this month.

Robinson stated that 2-1 defeat was "not acceptable", but Foster has kept his job and vowed to fight on as his side prepare to start the Rugby Championship with two away fixtures against the Springboks.

Yet CEO Robinson did not provide unequivocal backing for Foster when he was interviewed by Newstalk ZB at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

He said when asked about Foster's future: "He's certainly the person to lead the team to South Africa, and we're making sure they've got everything possible in the way of resourcing and support to make sure that's successful."

Former All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen this week slammed NZ Rugby, claiming the relationship between All Blacks players and the board is "probably the worst it's ever been".

Hansen lashed out over the treatment of Foster and former Black Ferns coach Glenn Moore, who resigned in April, making it clear that he was not impressed with the governing bodies conducting reviews over their futures.

The outspoken Hansen also highlighted the decision to bring in investment from US private equity firm Silver Lake as he accused the governing body of not "doing their job right".

Robinson has attempted to set the record straight.

He said: "One thing that seems to be coming through in some media is constant referral to reviews... that's simply not the case.

"But something that is very regular in all our environments is there are constant conversations about how we improve, and that’s a big part of the All Blacks as well."

He added with regards to Hansen's criticism: "I know he’s incredibly protective of Ian, and he's looking out for his mate, and I think we all understand that, too. Certainly we'll have a chat when the time is right.

"Regarding the players, we're working hard and well in that space around things in general, but also with regard to a new partner coming on with Silver Lake."

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has been talked up as a potential replacement for Foster, but Robinson refused to be drawn on speculation.

He said: "I understand the sentiment of our fans. That's been coming through loud and clear. We know Razor [Robertson] has a huge amount to offer the game in New Zealand... but to comment any further wouldn't be appropriate."

Steve Hansen has slammed New Zealand Rugby and believes the relationship between All Blacks players and the board is "probably the worst it's ever been".

Former New Zealand head coach Hansen lashed out over the treatment of under-fire All Blacks boss Ian Foster and former Black Ferns coach Glenn Moore, who resigned in April.

Foster, who was appointed as Hansen's successor in 2019, faced questions over his future after a recent series defeat to Ireland that was labelled "not acceptable" by New Zealand Rugby (NZR) CEO Mark Robinson.

The 57-year-old Foster was ultimately backed to remain in the role following an NZR review, while Moore quit after the governing body published a review into the culture and environment of the New Zealand women's side.

Hansen, who masterminded the All Blacks' 2015 Rugby World Cup triumph, has launched a scathing attack on the way NZR is going about its business.

He said in an interview with Today FM: "They've come out and aired all their dirty washing in the front part of the property rather than out the back.

"So their job [NZR] is to run it with strength and leadership but in a way that you're going to look after the people that work for you.

"Otherwise, you'll end up with a high turnover of staff which I think that they're having at the moment. So, the relationship between the board and the exec and players at the moment is probably the worst it's ever been."

Hansen also highlighted the decision to bring in investment from US private equity firm Silver Lake as he accused the governing body of not "doing their job right".

He added: "If you look back to when we were really successful from about 2010 through to 2019, which was our most successful era, the board and the exec at the rugby union were humming.

"There was complete togetherness and connection was with the actual All Blacks team."

Hansen backed CEO Robinson but said the long-serving Steve Tew, who previously held that position, should have been persuaded to stay on to provide a period of transition.

"I think he [Robinson] is up to the job, but you've got to remember, he's just in the job," Hansen said. "The period we're going through at the moment with COVID, no one else has ever had to do that in their time."

Hansen said he "can't fathom" why NZR found themselves with Tew and Foster "running the ship" when they are, by his description, "relatively inexperienced".

"Again, that's a board decision," Hansen said. "Mark Robinson is going to be a good CEO, however... everyone is into Sam Cane about his captaincy... I remember in 2007 Richie McCaw was the worst captain we've ever had according to the media and public, well he went on to become the greatest captain we've ever had."

Ian Foster is confident he has full backing from the New Zealand squad, despite two of his assistant coaches losing their jobs after a poor run of form.

All Blacks management announced on Sunday that John Plumtree and Brad Mooar have left their roles on the back of a first home series defeat to Ireland last weekend.

Jason Ryan will join from Crusaders as Plumtree's successor as forwards coach ahead of the Rugby Championship, which begins in two weeks' time.

Former Ireland boss Joe Schmidt has also now started his role as an independent selector and will work closely with Foster, who looks set to retain his job heading into the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Amid growing calls for Scott Robertson to take over as New Zealand head coach, Foster is focusing on the task at hand.

"I believe I've got the group and now I've got to deliver the plan," he told Sky Sport. "Part of the changes I've made is about making sure I'm not taking for granted their belief in the direction that I'm heading. 

"But I'm also listening to them and making the changes that we all feel we need for this team."

Regarding whether he has the absolute backing of the players, Foster said: "That's one of the questions I got them to talk about.

"I'm not in the room. It was just them and with all the noise around, there's been a lot of people putting me under pressure for a long, long time, so in many ways this isn't new.

"They also did a similar process with New Zealand Rugby as is normal after a series. I think we got a clear mandate that there's a strong belief in the direction we're going.

"But there's a feeling we need to get a new voice in there and make some changes to get the gains we really want to get."

A defiant Ian Foster has vowed to prove he is the right man to coach New Zealand after naming his squad for the Rugby Championship.

Foster knows he is under pressure after the All Blacks suffered a first home series defeat to Ireland last weekend.

The under-fire head coach was due to face the media last Sunday, but the press conference was cancelled at late notice and there had been no word from the New Zealand camp until Foster fronted up in Auckland on Friday.

The 57-year-old has retained Sam Cane as captain following reports he would be replaced, while prop Ethan de Groot and loose forward Shannon Frizell replace Karl Tu'inukuafe and Pita Gus Sowakula in a 36-man squad.

Foster says he will fight on as New Zealand prepare to start the Rugby Championship with a clash against world champions South Africa at Mbombela Stadium on August 6.

He said: "As a head coach, there have been a lot of questions the past couple of weeks. Let me tell you who I am, I'm strong, I'm resilient, I think I've proven that.

"I believe I've got a great feel and relationship with my players. I'm strategic and I'm also accountable and I take that on board.

"I promise you, I understand that and I'm really excited about the chance to show you what this team is made of, working alongside the players we've selected in this squad."

Foster revealed Joe Schmidt will not travel to South Africa but is helping him with "strategic areas" of the game and says he will make changes to his staff.

There have been calls for Scott Robertson to take over as All Blacks head coach, but Foster is confident he can turn things around ahead of the World Cup next year.

"There's no doubt about that I’m under pressure," he added. "But can I just say, I'm always under pressure?

"I've always felt that pressure and external people will try to intensify that pressure but it doesn't change the fact that as an All Blacks coach you live in that world all the time.

"Does it hurt? Yes it does. The key thing for me is making sure everything I do is about ensuring we have robust processes and make sure we have got the right people sitting in the right seats."

Foster says he can see why the decision to cancel a media conference the day after losing to Ireland did not go down well.

"I understand the frustration [about the cancelled news conference]," he said.

"All I want to say on that regard is that I as a head coach would never ever not communicate with my fanbase when it’s expected I communicate with them.

"I know my responsibility is to talk to the fanbase and if I knew I was supposed to do that, I would do that all the time.

"I love the passion of our fans and I love the opinions. That is what it is, but I guess all I can assure people is the person that I am and my role in this team.

"I'm not here for any other reason than to do the best I can for this team. Right now, I can understand frustrations that we've lost a series, but my job is to put perspective around that, to make sure we take the lessons and this All Blacks team comes out stronger, I want to be part of the solution.

"Will there be some changes? Yes there will, but like I said, I'll let you know shortly."

 

New Zealand Rugby Championship squad:

Forwards: Dane Coles, Samisoni Taukeiaho, Codie Taylor. Aidan Ross, George Bower, Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Ethan de Groot, Angus Ta'avao, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tupou Vaa'i, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane (captain),  Shannon Frizell, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Ardie Savea, Hoskins Sotutu.
 

Backs: Finlay Christie, Folau Fakatava, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo'unga, Stephen Perofeta, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Rieko Ioane, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Quinn Tupaea, Jordie Barrett, Caleb Clarke, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Will Jordan, Sevu Reece.
Replacement players travelling to South Africa: Josh Dickson, Braydon Ennor, Tyrel Lomax.

New Zealand coach Ian Foster labelled the confrontation between Akira Ioane and former All Black Justin Marshall as disappointing, but assured the issue has been cleared up.

The All Blacks suffered their first home series defeat in 28 years after Ireland triumphed 32-22 in Saturday's winner-takes-all-decider.

While Irish players took to the streets of Wellington to celebrate, flanker Ioane and Sky Sports commentator Marshall were caught on video footage confronting one another.

Marshall, who played 81 games for New Zealand, was ushered away by Caleb Clarke and George Bower as Ioane, surrounded by team-mates, attempted to move towards the 48-year-old.

The footage was drowned out by the celebrations around them and Foster expressed his disappointment with all those involved after the video circulated on social media.

"Look, the reality is it's disappointing. But two people were mouthing off a little bit at each other. I wish that hadn't happened," said Foster, whose job safety was confirmed on Friday despite defeat to Ireland.

"Yes, I've talked to both people involved, and I know they've had a conversation with each other, and there are no issues going forward."

New Zealand Rugby issued a statement after the incident, saying "behaving responsibly is one of the core values in our team environment" as Sky confirmed Marshall would remain part of their coverage for the All Blacks' upcoming tour of South Africa in August.

Though Foster questioned the actions of both Marshall and Ioane, the 57-year-old was not best pleased with the person taking the footage and then uploading it onto social media.

"I'm also not overly impressed that people think that they should film that stuff and spread it," he added.

"Because two people arguing in a pub, I don't think is as big of an issue as people make it out to be."

Ioane was still included in the 36-man All Blacks squad on Friday for the upcoming Rugby Championship.

Scott Robertson will join Ronan O'Gara in coaching the Barbarians against an All Blacks XV, as the Crusaders boss continues to be linked with the New Zealand top job.

The Barbarians game will be played at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on November 13 as the teams battle for the Killik Cup.

Robertson has been strongly linked with the New Zealand national side as speculation surrounds head coach Ian Foster's future, after a 32-22 defeat to Ireland condemned the All Blacks to a first home series defeat in 28 years.

Former New Zealand Under-20 team coach Robertson is reportedly in the running to take over if Foster does indeed lose his job.

Welcoming his appointment for the All Blacks XV fixture, Robertson told the Barbarians' official website: "Rugby throws you great opportunities and coaching the Baa-baas has to be one of the best there is.

"I am proud to help the incredible club and add to its history."

The series defeat to Ireland could also be the last act of New Zealand captain Sam Cane's tenure, with reports stating he could be replaced by Sam Whitelock ahead of the series in South Africa next month.

Cane took the job in 2020, succeeding Kieran Read, but could be losing the armband after just 13 Tests.

New Zealand head coach Ian Foster avoided questions over his future after the series defeat to Ireland, saying "I just want to talk about the test match."

The Irish had previously not won in 13 away games against New Zealand, but a 23-12 triumph last weekend gave them the opportunity to make even more history.

And a magnificent Ireland performance in a 32-22 victory in the decider condemned the All Blacks to their first home series defeat in 27 years.

The result also meant that New Zealand lost two games on home soil for the first time since a pair of defeats to South Africa in 1998.

In the post-match press conference Foster was quizzed about his future, to which he replied: "I just want to talk about the test match."

The 57-year-old was quick though to heap praise on Ireland, telling reporters: "New Zealanders have probably got to realise that this was a very good Irish team.

"Give them some credit. I think it would be disrespectful for us to not make that the number one item.

"They've come and achieved something pretty special here, and I think they deserve a bit of time in the sun for that."

Foster was also puzzled at New Zealand's lacklustre performance, with the 22-3 score they faced at half-time the largest 40-minute deficit in All Blacks history.

"For some reason we're just not as calm," Foster added.

"In the defence area we're getting a bit fidgety, there's a few holes.

"Ireland aren't a team you can let get behind because that is when they play an up-tempo game.”

Andy Farrell believes Ireland have achieved their biggest feat yet by winning a series in New Zealand, a result that he suggests "won't be done again".

The tourists were humbled by the All Blacks in the first of three Tests but responded in sensational fashion with back-to-back victories – their first ever away wins in New Zealand.

A first such series success was secured on Saturday by a 32-22 win in which Ireland dominated the first half and dug in for the second.

And the long-awaited accomplishment is not one Farrell foresees happening again in a hurry.

"This is a special group, you know? To come over here and achieve what they've achieved, it won't be done again," the Ireland coach told Sky Sports. "Knowing what we know, that's not going to happen in the next few years, anyway.

"This is probably the toughest thing to do in world rugby.

"We came over here with task in hand, and we went for it straight from the start, which is great. It's a group of 40 players and a lot of staff, as well.

"We said it was going to be the start of our World Cup year, but I don't know... I think it is probably a little bit bigger than that."

Ireland led by 19 points at half-time, the biggest advantage against New Zealand at that stage of a match in Test history.

Having beaten one of the world's best sides, Farrell's men are confident they can take on any opponents.

"They already do believe that," he said. "They keep turning up and surprising me, certainly. The bunch are just tight, and they really do believe, they really do believe that.

"After the first game, we got held up over the try line five times and made plenty of opportunities in the second game, and they knew there was a better performance in them.

"There certainly was for that first 40, wasn't there? These guys have won a lot of stuff and broke some records – this one will top it, I would have thought."

Johnny Sexton was determined to enjoy Ireland's historic series win in New Zealand, even if he recognises there remains work to do ahead of next year's Rugby World Cup.

Ireland headed to New Zealand for a three-match series having never won an away Test against the All Blacks.

They ended that wait last week to set up a decider in Wellington, where the tourists sensationally snatched the series with a 32-22 success.

The result was no less than Ireland deserved, with their 19-point half-time lead the largest any team has ever enjoyed at that stage of a Test against New Zealand.

Although the All Blacks rallied after the break, with Andrew Porter heading to the sin bin, Sexton helped to keep his side ahead having passed 1,000 international points in the first half.

"It's a very special day, because we're playing against the best in the world, the very best," Sexton told Sky Sport in the post-match presentation. "To come down here and do it is very, very special."

Sexton said Ireland have learned the hard way about getting carried away. This result comes a year out from the 2023 World Cup – a competition that Ireland have yet to win, or even make the semi-finals of, despite being one of the world's best teams over an extended period.

"It means a lot now," Sexton said. "I know in a year's time, when the World Cup starts, it won't mean anything, as we've learned before.

"But we'll certainly enjoy tonight – and maybe a couple more days. Then we've got to keep improving; that's what we've learned from previous years: we've got to keep improving.

"This group of boys, with the management we've got, they're a very special group, and I'm proud to be part of it."

Sexton paid special tribute to Ireland coach Andy Farrell.

"It's clear how much belief [is in the team], and it starts with the main man, with Faz," he said.

"He's come in here, he's changed things, he was brave at the start and he stuck with some older lads and got criticised, he brought in some younger lads, he's just done an amazing job. It's all credit to him, really."

Ireland dominated a record-breaking first half and held on for a second straight victory in New Zealand to triumph in their three-Test series against the All Blacks.

The tourists had been winless in 13 away matches against New Zealand prior to last weekend's breakthrough success, which set up Saturday's decider.

Andy Farrell's side duly made it two in a row with a remarkable 32-22 win that required both style and spirit in Wellington.

A quite sensational first half saw Ireland 19 points in front at the interval at 22-3 – the biggest 40-minute deficit in All Black history.

Hugo Keenan's stunning score was one of three tries, while Johnny Sexton kicked his way past 1,000 international points, becoming the eighth man to that mark.

New Zealand were unsurprisingly much improved after the break, and Andrew Porter's yellow card for a head-on-head challenge gave them further impetus.

The second of two Sexton penalties bounced away off the crossbar between a pair of All Blacks tries, but Rob Herring's superb score at full stretch gave Ireland breathing room to clinch a series success.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is hoping his side can provide "chaos" and bring doubt into the minds of New Zealand players ahead of their series-deciding Test this Saturday.

Farrell's side has a chance to claim an historic series win in Wellington, after Ireland's first-ever triumph over the All Blacks in New Zealand last Saturday, with a 23-12 victory in Dunedin.

Notwithstanding the win-loss record, New Zealand has been an otherwise perilous place for touring Irish sides, with three of their seven-heaviest defeats coming there –including a 60-0 defeat in Hamilton in 2012.

The gravity of the occasion is not lost on Farrell, who is looking for his team to rise to it, which could then potentially build pressure on the hosts.

"It really doesn’t get any better for us," he said. "We’ve talked about playing against the All Blacks when their backs are against the wall or they’ve come off a loss and we know what the history says about all that.

"But that’s exactly where we want to be. We know they will be hurting, we know that they bounce back unbelievably strong. We’ve played them enough times now to realise what’s coming. Everyone realises the size of the task in hand but there’s a lot of excitement in being able to deal with that.

"We’ll see whether there is that much improvement needed because we’re in control as well as them. They’ve got a plan, but it’s up to us to make sure we bring a bit of chaos to that plan. We’ve got to make sure that we put a bit of doubt in the All Blacks' minds as the game goes."

Meanwhile, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster is relishing the challenge and pressure.

The 57-year-old has responded to the Dunedin loss by recalling Sam Whitelock after his concussion, as well as tighthead prop Nepo Laulala, while winger Will Jordan has been added to the starting XV.

"It’s tough having a loss but the tough weeks are often the most exciting," he told the All Blacks' website.

"A series decider against a high-quality side is a great occasion for our growth as a team."

England men's managing director Rob Key could not foresee Ben Stokes' Test captaincy starting in such a promising fashion.

Stokes and Brendon McCullum were appointed as the new captain-coach combination following April's resignation of Joe Root, who had won just one of his past 17 Tests as skipper.

The new leadership duo have restored interest in the five-day game, with their enthralling and attacking approach to red-ball cricket enticing crowds up and down the country.

England started their new era with a 3-0 series whitewash over world Test champions New Zealand, chasing scores of over 250 on each occasion, but saved their best for the rescheduled clash with India.

McCullum's side were set 378 to win by India at Edgbaston and England duly obliged, completing their highest Test chase with relative ease to record a memorable seven-wicket victory.

South Africa are the next to visit in a three-Test series before England tour Pakistan in the longest format of the game, and Key cannot believe the start Stokes has made to life as captain.

"I never thought it would work like this," Key told BBC Test Match Special. "There will be times when it won't work, but for now it's been fantastic to see."

McCullum has previously lamented the use of the term 'Bazball', referencing the New Zealand great's willingness to embrace an attacking approach, and Key suggested he is also uneasy with the phrase.

"I'm not mad on Bazball the phrase," Key added. "It's not something I particularly enjoy because it devalues what Ben and Brendon have done.

"They've been so premeditated almost and methodical in the way they've spoken to people and that's what's made the difference and let them get to this point which is so much more than, 'Oh, we're just going to go out there and look to be positive and play a few shots'.

"Brendon will at times on purpose say to one of the players like Ollie Pope 'I can't get to the ground, give us a lift' and that's when he's doing his work with them.

"There have been all these moments when they have made sure that they've used the right terminology and that's what's bred the confidence."

Key was tasked with transforming English cricket after his appointment as managing director, and his first steps to appoint McCullum appeared somewhat a risk.

McCullum boasted coaching experience in franchise cricket with the Kolkata Knight Riders and Trinbago Knight Riders, yet he had never been in charge of a first-class side despite captaining New Zealand.

"I saw it as though I had two choices," Key added. "Did the England team, the Test team in particular, need someone who was going to be like a drill sergeant, a real hard taskmaster who's going to be really tough on them and try and drive them in that way?

"I felt they needed someone to just take the pressure off them a little bit. I wanted someone who, with the talented players that we had, just freed them up a bit and got them out there to be the best players they possibly can be."

Ben Stokes has taken Test cricket by storm with his attacking approach to captaining England, but the all-rounder must value his wicket more.

That is the message from former England batter Kevin Pietersen, who hailed the start Stokes has made as skipper, winning each of his first four Tests.

Stokes and Brendon McCullum have restored interest in the five-day game, with their aggressive intent in the longest format resulting in a series whitewash of New Zealand and victory over India.

In each of those victories, England have chased down scores of more than 275 runs and they saved their best until last with a seven-wicket win over India, completing their highest Test chase of 378 with ease.

Yorkshire duo Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root have been the standout performers for McCullum's side, and Pietersen believes the attitude of Stokes is refreshing for the England set-up and cricket in general.

"They're doing something incredible. The last few run chases, pretty much record-breaking. I have been watching it in astonishment," Pietersen said after playing the Old Course, St Andrews ahead of the 150th Open Championship.

"We were all astonished by Ben Stokes winning the toss and saying, 'we'll chase'. I mean, I'd never heard of that in my life. I was standing with Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain, and we were like, 'did he just say that?'

"No one's ever said that before and, fair play, if you're going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. The wickets have been very good, so they've been able to do that.

"Can you do that in India on day three, day four of a Test match? I'm not so sure but I think these guys are good enough.

"And if they play with that freedom, of spirit and mind, they can achieve some cool things. I'm all in to watch how it goes."

Stokes has courted criticism for embodying England's approach too excessively after somewhat cheap dismissals against New Zealand and India, though, and Pietersen urged for caution from the captain.

"The only thing I do see and want to see is that he does value his wicket a little more than then what I saw in Birmingham, he's too good a player to slog it straight in the air," he added.

"He's too good a player to do that. Just have a look at how Bairstow played has played with freedom of spirit, freedom of mind.

"He accessed all areas of the ground and he puts so much pressure on the opposition. I just think Ben is better than that, and I'm sure he'll accept that, and he'll know that I just want to see him flourishing."

Bairstow has set the benchmark for 'Bazball', an endearing term for McCullum's attacking approach that the New Zealand legend is not too great a fan of.

The 32-year-old scored the second-fastest Test hundred for England at Trent Bridge before reaching three figures in three of his next four innings, the only exception being a rapid 71 not out at Headingley.

His unbeaten 114 against India marked his sixth century of 2022, which is the most by a player while batting at number five or lower in a calendar year and joint-most by an England batter in the same time period (level with Root), and Pietersen backed Bairstow to continue playing freely.

"There's no real pressure because he's not being frowned upon by the powers that be, he is being asked by the senior management to play that way," he continued.

"I think it's a privilege to be able to go out there and just express yourself. The balls up, just give it a smack and everybody says instead of smacking it that hard, I want you to smack it harder – awesome, no pressure."

Jonny Bairstow has been named as the ICC Player of the Month after run-laden Test outings against New Zealand and India.

The England batter appeared to be feeling the pressure after opening the Test against New Zealand with scores of one and 16 at Lord's, before managing just eight at Trent Bridge.

However, Bairstow delivered a knock for the ages in the second innings in Nottingham, scoring England's second-fastest Test century – from 77 balls – as the hosts chased 299 with ease.

The 32-year-old finished unbeaten on 136 before he plundered 162 in the following Test at Headingley, having come in at 21-4, and combined in a vital 209-run partnership with debutant Jamie Overton.

Bairstow continued to frustrate New Zealand in the second innings at Leeds, breezing to 71 not out, as England comfortably reached their target of 296 to complete a series whitewash of the Black Caps.

But more fireworks from Bairstow were to follow against India in the rescheduled final Test, with the Yorkshireman crafting 106 – his third century in four innings – to keep England in the first-innings contest.

India subsequently set England 378 to win and Brendon McCullum's side obliged to complete their highest successful chase in five-day cricket, Bairstow finishing unbeaten on 114 alongside Joe Root (142 not out).

That marked a sixth century of 2022 for Bairstow, which is the most by a player while batting at number five or lower in a calendar year and joint-most by an England batter in the same time period (level with Root).

Bairstow's efforts have been recognised by cricket's governing body and he will now eye further success in the upcoming three-Test series at home to South Africa before heading to Pakistan.

"I would like to thank the fans for voting for me as the ICC Men's Player of the Month," he said.

"It has been an incredible five weeks for England. It has been a positive start to our summer with four excellent wins against high-class opposition in New Zealand and India.

"We are enjoying our cricket as a team and playing with clarity and positivity. Even though I have scored four centuries in this period, I would like to acknowledge my team-mates who have been excellent in every department and are playing with immense confidence."

Keith Earls will captain Ireland for the first time when Andy Farrell's side face the Maori All Blacks in Wellington on Tuesday.

The Maoris eased to a 32-17 victory in the first warm-up meeting before Ireland responded to a comprehensive Test defeat against New Zealand by defeating the All Blacks away from home for the first time.

That teed up a winner-takes-all decider at the Sky Stadium on Saturday but Ireland clash with the Maoris once more before the Test series decider against New Zealand.

Farrell previously hinted at rotation to offer his second-string side valuable minutes on the tour, and he has made just three changes to his last team that lost to the Maoris in Hamilton.

Stuart McCloskey comes into midfield to partner Earls, who is Ireland's second-highest try scorer of all time, while Michael Lowry is another introduction at full-back.

The start for Lowry means Jimmy O'Brien will move to the left wing, while forward Niall Scannell replaces the concussed Dave Heffernan.

Jeremy Loughman has also been named in the starting side despite suffering concussion in the first meeting just two weeks ago, with Ed Byrne expected to make his first appearance off the bench.

Farrell hopes Ireland can find form in their warm-up against the Maoris and believes there is no player more deserving of captaining Ireland than Earls.

"For the likes of him, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, well everyone really, their attitudes have been top class and there has only been one thing on their mind and that is, 'how can we help the team-mates, how can we make the fellas who are starting in advance of them better?'," he told reporters.

"There is no more deserving man to captain Ireland against the Maoris than Keith.

"He was not as shocked as Bundee [Aki, to be named captain] but he has always been a leader, Keith, especially over the last five or six years that I have known him.

"He has always been curious about how he can learn more, such as edge defence as an example, or what more he can learn about back three play in general. He is able to get across at 13 no problem.

"He has always been one who has been able to take people with him, always one who wants to share and help. That has been at the forefront of his attitude for the last five or six years that I have known him and he will bring all that to the forefront on Tuesday night."

Ireland team: Michael Lowry; Jordan Larmour, Keith Earls, Stuart McCloskey, Jimmy O’Brien, Ciaran Frawley, Craig Casey; Jeremy Loughman, Niall Scannell, Tom O’Toole, Joe McCarthy, Kieran Treadwell, Cian Prendergast, Nick Timoney, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Rob Herring, Ed Byrne, Finlay Bealham, Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Mack Hansen.

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