The Rugby Championship returns this weekend with a pair of intriguing fixtures.

The tournament took a year off in 2020, reverting to a Tri-Nations format with world champions South Africa absent due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Springboks are back, though, and come into the 2021 edition on a high after beating the British and Irish Lions 2-1.

Meanwhile, New Zealand have already gained an edge over Australia in last week's Bledisloe Cup opener.

The tournament is teed up nicely, as Stats Perform provides the key Opta facts...
 

NEW ZEALAND V AUSTRALIA

Form

New Zealand have won their past five Tests, scoring an average of 58 points per game. However, the All Blacks have won only two of their past six outings in the Tri-Nations and the Rugby Championship (D1, L3) – Australia have won two of the sides' previous three meetings across these competitions (L1).

The Wallabies will have to end a long wait for an away win against New Zealand to further improve on that record, though. The All Blacks are undefeated in their past 26 encounters on home soil (W25, D1) – including last week's Bledisloe I.

Ones to watch

Two-time World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett is among the replacements for an All Blacks side who have scored 15 Test tries from the bench since the beginning of 2020, six more than any other tier one nation. Barrett has not scored in that period and last did so from the bench in a Test in 2016.

For Australia, the performance of one of their inexperienced stars will be key. Noah Lolesio has 57 Test points in 2021, but only five of those came at Eden Park last week as he missed two of three penalties and three of four conversions. He must be more clinical.
 

SOUTH AFRICA V ARGENTINA

Form

Argentina have led at half-time in four of their past five away Tests against South Africa, but they have gone on to win only one of those (L4). That victory, in Durban in August 2015, was the Pumas' only triumph in South Africa and one of only three against the Springboks in 30 Tests (D1, L26).

Both teams come into this match in form, however. South Africa have won nine of their past 10 Tests (L1), including the series win over the Lions, while Argentina have only lost one in eight (W4, D3) and are unbeaten in four (W2, D2).

Ones to watch

Coming off the gruelling Lions series, South Africa have made 12 changes, giving wing duo Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi a rest. That means another opportunity for Aphelele Fassi, who scored on his debut against Georgia last month but will now take on trickier opponents.

In-form Argentina will fancy their chances of disrupting a much-changed home side. The Pumas made the most tackles per game (146) and had the highest tackle success rate (89 per cent) at the 2020 Tri-Nations, with Marcos Kremer leading the tournament with his 72. He has made just 16 tackles from 22 attempts in his past three games, though.

Ian Foster has called on New Zealand to fight "fire with fire" in a second Bledisloe Cup Test against an Australia side that will include Marika Koroibete at Eden Park on Saturday.

The All Blacks won the opener 33-25 last weekend, extending their winning run over the Wallabies in Auckland to 21 Tests.

Rieko Ioane will move to centre with Anton Lienert-Brown (knee) missing out, while Sevu Reece switches to the left with Will Jordan on the right flank and TJ Perenara returning as a replacement along with Samisoni Taukei'aho, Dane Coles and Scott Barrett.

The All Blacks have held the Bledisloe Cup since 2003 and Foster wants a clean sweep this weekend.

The All Blacks head coach said: "We know that Australia will be disappointed with the result and will lift. It's a do-or-die game for them.

"But the Bledisloe Cup means a lot to us. It's an historic trophy and it’s easy for people to take it for granted based on results in recent years, but throughout history it has been a hard cup to win, so it’s hugely important.

He added: "I think it's the right thing for this team for now. We need to go forward. We're going to get a more committed Australian team and we need to make sure we're matching fire with fire."

Koroibete replaces Jordan Petaia on the wing after serving a one-match ban for breaking team protocols in one of four changes to the Australia line-up.

Matt To'omua, Matt Philip and Lachie Swinton also come into the team, while the fit-again Nic White is on the bench.

Rennie said: "Eden Park is a place that most teams fear but we're excited to get another crack after last weekend’s disappointment.

"To beat New Zealand, you have to win the collisions and be clinical for 80 minutes and we didn't do that. We've got a lot more in us and we'll show that on Saturday."

 

New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, David Havili, Sevu Reece, Richie Mo'unga, Aaron Smith; George Bower, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick, Samuel Whitelock (captain), Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Ardie Savea.

Replacements: Samisoni Taukei'aho, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Angus Ta'avao, Scott Barrett, Luke Jacobson, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett.

Australia: Tom Banks, Andrew Kellaway, Hunter Paisami, Matt To'omua, Marika Koroibete, Noah Lolesio, Tate McDermott; James Slipper, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Allan Alaalatoa, Darcy Swain, Matt Philip, Lachlan Swinton, Michael Hooper (captain), Rob Valetini.

Replacements: Jordan Uelese, Scott Sio, Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Harry Wilson, Nic White, Len Ikitau, Reece Hodge.

Former New Zealand all-rounder Chris Cairns is in an intensive care unit in a Sydney hospital after undergoing further heart surgery.

Cairns suffered a "major medical event" in Canberra late last week and initially underwent an operation in the capital city.

The 51-year-old's wife, Melanie, on Wednesday revealed he has been transferred to St Vincent's hospital in Sydney, where has had undergone another operation.

"As has now been widely reported in the media, Chris suffered a major medical event in Canberra late last week," she said in a statement.

"He initially underwent surgery in Canberra, but the seriousness of his condition is such that he has now been transferred to St Vincent's hospital in Sydney, where he has undergone further cardiovascular surgery.

"Chris' family and friends are heartened by the respectful and warm manner in which this terrible news has been reported, and received by the public, both in New Zealand and around the world, and thank everyone for their warm wishers, prayers and kind words.

"For now, no further statements will be make regarding Chris' situation, and the Cairns family asks that people continue to respect their privacy as they deal with this difficult, upsetting and concerning situation."

New Zealand Cricket CEO David White said: "We're deeply concerned to hear of Chris Cairns' medical emergency.

"Our thoughts are with his family in Australia and here in New Zealand. Chris is a much-loved husband, father, and son - and remains one of our finest all-rounders. We hope he's able to make a full recovery."

Cairns played 62 Tests, 215 ODis and two Twenty20 games for the Black Caps between 1989 and 2006.

Noah Lolesio's wayward kicking cost Australia at Eden Park on Saturday, but the Wallabies plan to keep faith with their young fly-half.

Lolesio, 21, entered the Bledisloe Cup opener against New Zealand with 52 Test points in 2021, trailing only Johnny Sexton (65) among players for tier one nations.

But he added just five in a 33-25 All Blacks victory, missing two of three penalties and three of four conversions.

Windy conditions did not help Lolesio, yet his profligacy proved the difference between the sides as Australia's run of defeats in Auckland – where Lolesio was born – extended to 21 Tests.

Coach Dave Rennie was in forgiving mood, though, with the number 10 having contributed 23 points in a series decider against France just last month.

"He was sensational in the French series and you don't go from an ace goal kicker to a novice overnight," Rennie said. "Tough conditions – we saw Richie [Mo'unga] miss as well.

"He kicked penalties in the French series to win the first and third Test and one that should have won us the second one. Yes, he'll be disappointed.

"We've got a lot of faith in the kid. He's going to get better and better, he's 21 and there are a lot of young men around him as well.

"He's growing and he's an impressive kid, too, very confident, great work ethic, he's spending a lot of time sitting around with Quade [Cooper] and talking about the generic parts of his game.

"He played pretty well tonight, but he had a rough night with the boot."

Captain Michael Hooper added: "We pick each other up. As Dave said, his boot guided us through a series win.

"In a goal kicker's career, there's going to be nights like that. He'll be better from it. He'll learn from that for sure."

New Zealand's Eden Park fortress remained unbreached as they took the Bledisloe Cup opener 33-25 against Australia following a clinical second-half spell.

The All Blacks have not lost to the Wallabies in Auckland since 1986 and have momentum to take into next week's Rugby Championship encounter at the same venue again.

Australia were in this contest throughout but allowed the scoreline to get away from them as Richie Mo'unga, David Havili and Damian McKenzie crossed in a 14-minute period.

That left a mountain to climb, with a double from Tom Banks and Jordan Uelese's try not enough, largely due to a poor kicking game from Noah Lolesio in tricky winds.

Those gusts played in Mo'unga's favour as he dispatched two early penalties and then stretched the All Blacks' lead to nine after Lolesio's kick faded right, one of several wayward Wallabies efforts.

Lolesio did get on the board with his next attempt before Andrew Kellaway burst through for the first try, but New Zealand finished the half firmly on top and Sevu Reece forced the ball over heading into the break.

Reece thought he had a second soon after the restart, finishing off one of the great Test moves from his team's own try line only for the score to be pulled back for a forward pass from Aaron Smith.

However, another sensational break brought the All Blacks joy as Mo'unga intercepted inside his own half and raced through, with the hosts really hitting their stride as Havili and McKenzie each touched down in the corner.

Australia finally got the response their pressure merited through Banks on the left and he toed the ball away to score again following Lolesio's incisive kick.

But repeated misses from the tee meant Uelese's try in the final seconds counted for little.

Not Noah's day

Johnny Sexton (65) is the sole player from a Tier One country with more Test points this year than Lolesio, but his tally only improved to 57 on a testing day.

Just one of his three penalties found the target, while he also missed three conversions in a row before belatedly hitting the mark when Uelese went over.

Out of touch

Australia had lost just one of their previous six Tests, including a victory over New Zealand in November 2020. However, each of those six matches had been decided by margins of no more than three points.

When the Wallabies were picked apart at the start of the second half and the lead reached 25 points, any hopes of back-to-back wins over the All Blacks for the first time since 2001 were all but over.

Jamaica completed a one-two-three clean sweep in the women's 100m sprint race in Tokyo, with gold medallist Elaine Thompson-Herah setting an Olympic record.

Thompson-Herah defended the title she won in Rio and became the second-fastest woman in history in the process, recording a time of 10.61 seconds.

Reigning world champion and compatriot Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce claimed silver, just .02 seconds ahead of Shericka Jackson as Jamaica completed a clean sweep which was celebrated on Twitter by Usain Bolt.

Legendary sprinter Bolt  – an eight-time gold medallist – retired in 2017, and the men's preliminary rounds struggled for big names in his absence.

 

Jamaica will have another chance of a medal in athletics, with 2019 world champion long jumper Tajay Gayle overcoming injury to make Monday's final with a leap of 8.14m.

Sweden sealed a one-two in the men's discus – Daniel Stahl taking gold and Simon Pettersson silver – while Poland won their second Olympic gold medal in a relay event in athletics, their mixed team succeeding in the same city in which their women had tasted victory in 1964.


NO LUCK FOR NOVAK

Djokovic's Golden Slam hopes were ended on Friday, and on Saturday, his medal hopes crumbled.

The world number one lost to Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta, who won 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 in the bronze medal match in the men's singles.

For Djokovic, it was a defeat which represented the end of his campaign.

He would have had another shot at bronze in the mixed doubles alongside Nina Stojanovic, but withdrew from that match, handing the medal to Ash Barty and John Peers of Australia in the process. 

"The exhaustion, both physical and mental, got to me and it's unfortunate that in the most important matches I just didn't deliver, but I gave it all," said Djokovic, whose attention will now turn to winning the US Open to complete a calendar Grand Slam.

 

BLACK FERNS RIGHT RIO WRONGS

New Zealand's women clinched gold in the rugby sevens on Saturday, overcoming France 26-12.

The Black Ferns cruised to the final in 2016, but slumped to a defeat to rivals Australia. Co-captain Portia Woodman was pictured in tears on the field in Brazil, yet her team made no such mistake this time around.

"Crying underneath the posts was one that I looked back on, but now it's gone," Woodman said. "Not when I look at this," she added, gesturing to the gold medal around her neck.

"Yeah, we've got titles and we've won things, but I want our group to be good people and show the world that you can be a good, genuine person and still have success," Woodman's fellow co-captain Sarah Hirini said. 

"Our programme allowed that. Things like this happen because you're able to be who you are."

In the bronze medal match, Fiji defeated Great Britain 21-12.

"We are totally gutted. We really thought we could come here and get a medal, but we just weren't good enough," conceded Team GB's Hannah Smith. "Fiji really brought it to us today, so fair play to them."

DEBUT BRONZE FOR WILSON, CHINA TAKE WINDSURFING GOLD

There was joy for Britain out on the water, however, as Emma Wilson – an Olympic debutant – won bronze in the women's windsurfing.

Wilson was already guaranteed a medal due to winning four races in the lead up to the final. The 22-year-old missed out on silver as Lu Yunxiu of China kept within a boat's length to claim the gold.

Charline Picon took silver to follow up her win in Rio five years ago.

"It's amazing. I tried so hard in that race - I just kept going and going," said Wilson. "I just want to win, but any medal is amazing. I'm super happy and I just gave it everything I had."

 

CHINESE TAIPEI WIN MAIDEN BADMINTON GOLD

Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin took home Chinese Taipei's first badminton gold on Saturday with a victory over Liu Yu Chen and Li Jun Hui of two-time reigning champions China in the men's doubles final.

Their victory brought up the seventh Olympic gold for Chinese Taipei – the previous six having been split across weightlifting (four) and taekwondo (two).

Malaysia claimed their first medal in Tokyo thanks to Wooi Yik Soh and Aaron Chia triumphing in the bronze medal match.

In total, Malaysia have claimed 12 medals in their Olympic history, but are yet to clinch gold in any event.

Spain reached the semi-finals of the men's football tournament at the Tokyo Olympics after surviving an almighty scare against the Ivory Coast.

Manchester United defender Eric Bailly was a surprising opening goalscorer but Dani Olmo levelled before half-time at Miyagi Stadium.

Spain were the dominant force on the ball without finding a breakthrough, and it looked as though they were staring at a shock quarter-final exit when Max Gradel's deflected effort gave Ivory Coast the lead in injury time.

Incredibly, substitute Rafa Mir forced extra time two minutes later, scoring just 58 seconds after coming off the bench.

Spain at last went ahead when Oyarzabal swept home from the penalty spot, Bailly having been penalised for handball after a long VAR review.

Mir completed his hat-trick with two goals in the final three minutes to secure a 5-2 win and send Spain into the final four.

JAPAN STILL DREAMING

Spain will now meet Japan after the hosts battled past New Zealand in Kashima.

There was little to split the sides over 120 minutes, Japan out-shooting their opponents 21 to eight but unable to find a breakthrough.

At the other end, captain Maya Yoshida was the inspiration, posting the highest figures for duel success rate (80 per cent), aerial success rate (71.4 per cent) and blocks (three) of any starting player.

Fittingly, it was Yoshida who converted the final penalty after Liberato Cacace and Clayton Lewis had failed to score, giving Japan a 4-2 win in the shoot-out.

 

MEXICO WIN CLASSIC TO SET UP BRAZIL CLASH

Brazil's quest to defend the gold medal they won on home soil in 2016 will continue in a semi-final against Mexico.

A solitary goal from Matheus Cunha settled the quarter-final contest with Egypt in Saitama.

If that encounter was cagey, the showdown between Mexico and South Korea was anything but, as a nine-goal thriller was played out in Yokohama.

Mexico led 3-1 at half-time through goals from Henry Martin, Luis Romo and Sebastian Cordova, with Lee Dong-gyeong grabbing a lifeline.

A frenetic contest continued after the break as Lee made it 3-2 only for Martin and Cordova to score their second goals and stretch Mexico's advantage.

Substitute Eduardo Aguirre netted the sixth with six minutes of normal time remaining, Hwang Ui-jo scoring an injury-time consolation.

 

Real Madrid winger Takefusa Kubo was on target again as hosts Japan eliminated France from the Tokyo Olympics men's football tournament with a 4-0 win on Wednesday.

Kubo netted in Japan's first two Group A games and gave Madrid another reminder of his quality by opening the scoring against France in Yokohama.

In doing so, the 20-year-old became the first Japanese player to score in each group-stage match at the same Olympic tournament.

Hiroki Sakai doubled Japan's lead prior to half-time before Koji Miyoshi and Daizen Maeda completed the rout, either side of Randal Kolo Muani being sent off.

Japan advance as the only side with a 100 per cent record, whereas France – who had Timothee Pembele and Andre-Pierre Gignac in their line-up – are out at the first stage.

Only Fiji (23 in 2016) and Serbia-Montenegro (14 in 2004) have let in more than the 11 goals France conceded at Tokyo 2020 in the 21st century.

"The tournament was really difficult for us, because we are young players and these are the first games we have played with the team," France midfielder Alexis Beka Beka said. 

"One of the big differences was the other teams knew each other much better. But it's all about the details. The game is never finished."

Mexico recovered from their loss to Japan last time out by beating South Africa 3-0 in a game in which both sides had a player sent off, seeing them through in second place ahead of France.

 


SPAIN MATCH CLASS OF '92

Spain were not perfect in the pool phase, having been held for the second time in three games in Wednesday's clash with Argentina, but they still went through as Group C winners.

It is the first time La Roja have achieved that feat at the Olympic Games since the likes of Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique went on to win gold in Barcelona in 1992.

Spain dominated possession against Argentina and took the lead through Mikel Merino's 66th-minute strike at Saitama Stadium.

Tomas Belmonte's late equaliser came against the run of play, but it was not enough to prevent 2004 and 2008 gold medallists Argentina crashing out early on.

London 2012 quarter-finalists Egypt finished level on four points with Argentina after beating Australia 2-0 and progress to the last eight, where heavyweights Brazil await, by virtue of a superior goal difference.

HISTORIC ACHIEVEMENT FOR OLYWHITES

New Zealand picked up the point they needed against Romania in a goalless draw to advance to the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time.

Goalkeeper Michael Woud redeemed himself for his horror show in the loss to Honduras by making a string of stops against Romania, who would have advanced with a win.

"It really came down to desire tonight," said OlyWhites head coach Danny Hay. "The boys really dug deep and showed a lot of that.

"I'm really proud of the performance. It's historic and we look forward to a quarter-final for a New Zealand men's team."

New Zealand also needed a favour from South Korea, who followed up a 4-0 win against Romania with a 6-0 victory over Honduras on Wednesday en route to topping Group B.

Hwang Ui-jo scored three of the goals, two of those from the penalty spot, and a showdown with Mexico is up next for rampant South Korea for a place in the semi-finals.

RIO FINALISTS GERMANY FALL SHORT

Germany will not get the opportunity to match or better their silver medal from Rio in 2016 as a 1-1 draw with Ivory Coast saw their opponents through at their expense.

Nothing less than a win would do for Stefan Kuntz's men but they fell behind to a Benjamin Henrichs own goal with 67 minutes played.

While Eduard Lowen's impressive free-kick did set up a tense finish in Miyagi, Germany were unable to find a winner and are on the plane home.

Ivory Coast will now take on Spain, the last European nation standing, in the quarter-finals.

Also through to the knockout stage are reigning champions Brazil after seeing off Saudi Arabia 3-1, with Richarlison's late double adding to Matheus Cunha's first-half opener.

France got the better of South Africa in a seven-goal thriller as Andre-Pierre Gignac's hat-trick inspired Les Bleus to a 4-3 victory at the Tokyo Olympics.

Having been thrashed 4-1 by Mexico in their opening game of Group A, France hit back to keep their chances of progression alive, though they had to do so the hard way in Saitama.

Indeed, South Africa led on three occasions during a remarkable second half, yet it was Les Bleus who took the points.

Liberato Cacace's stunner was not enough to propel New Zealand to victory against Honduras in Group B, while reigning champions Brazil could only draw 0-0 with the Ivory Coast and Spain overcame Australia thanks to Mikel Oyarzabal's late winner.

 

GIGNAC AND SAVANIER SETTLE THRILLER

France were on the wrong end of conceding four last time out, and though they still let three in this time around, Teji Savanier's stoppage-time goal saw them clinch victory.

It was 35-year-old Gignac who had previously dragged France level on three occasions – a close-range finish followed by a thumping header before the Tigres striker, the leading scorer in the competition, converted his second penalty of the tournament to cancel out Teboho Mokoena's glorious 81st-minute strike.

Luther Singh had missed a first-half penalty for South Africa, with Kobamelo Kodisang and Evidence Makgopa also getting on the scoresheet.

But Gignac's efforts set the stage for France to nose themselves ahead when Montpellier's experienced Savanier lashed home, sending South Africa out in the process.

France sit third in Group A, three points behind leaders Japan, who survived a late scare to beat Mexico 2-1.

ALL WHITES LET LEAD SLIP

Cacace's exceptional strike put New Zealand ahead after just 10 minutes in Kashima – the defender picking out the top-right corner with a first-time effort from 30 yards out.

Luis Palma restored parity in first-half stoppage time, yet Chris Wood carried on his scoring form to put New Zealand back in front just after the restart.

Yet substitutes proved the difference for Honduras. Juan Obregon netted with 12 minutes remaining, paving the way for Rigoberto Rivas to clinch the comeback victory.

Matters were much more simple for South Korea, as they cruised to a 4-0 triumph against Romania, meaning all four Group B teams are on four points heading into the final matchday.

 

OYARZABAL RECORDS LONG-AWAITED SPAIN WIN

Spain secured their first win at an Olympic Games since 2000 thanks to Oyarzabal's header against Australia, which came with nine minutes of normal time remaining.

The 24-year-old Real Sociedad winger – who played a pivotal role in Spain's run to the semi-finals at Euro 2020 – has put La Roja top of Group C heading into Wednesday's encounter with Argentina, who beat Egypt.

Spain, who drew with Egypt in their opener, won gold in 1992 and silver in 2000, but had only qualified once since then, but they failed to score across their three appearances in the 2012 London Games.

CHAMPIONS HELD AS GERMANY BOUNCE BACK

Brazil sparkled in their 4-2 win over Germany on matchday one, though they could not find a way past the Ivory Coast, who held them to a 0-0 draw in Group D.

Douglas Luiz was sent off early on for Brazil, who missed a last-gasp chance to seal qualification through substitute Malcom after the Ivory Coast had also been reduced to 10 men.

Meanwhile, Germany recovered from their defeat on matchday one to beat Saudi Arabia 3-2 – Felix Uduokhai netting the decisive goal in the 75th minute.

The 2021 Rugby League World Cup is in jeopardy after Australia and New Zealand pulled out of the tournament due to player welfare concerns amid rising coronavirus cases.

The two heavyweight nations of the game have cited a spike in COVID-19 infections in the UK and a "worsening environment" in Australia.

England and Samoa are due to kick off the tournament at St James' Park on October 23.

The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) have requested that the tournament be moved to 2022, although this is a course of action organisers may be loath to take given the prospects of a clash with the 2022 Cricket World Cup in Australia and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

"The decision to withdraw from the RLWC2021 comes after considering the risk of COVID-19 infection in the United Kingdom, the worsening environment in Australia and the time a majority of NRL Premiership players will spend away from home under strict biosecurity conditions prior to the World Cup," a joint statement read.

"The ARLC and NZRL have resolved, that in the present environment the risks to athletes and officials travelling to the UK to participate in the tournament this year are too great, and it is unable to endorse Australia and New Zealand participating in the RLWC in 2021."

The withdrawal comes despite the fact Australia's rugby union team are still slated to play England at Twickenham on November 13.

Tournament organisers issued a statement expressing frustration at the announcement.

"RLWC2021 note the disappointing statement made by the ARLC and NZRL which may have wide ranging implications for international rugby league," read the Rugby League World Cup statement. "RLWC2021 were informed at very short notice and will continue discussions with all stakeholders to agree on the best way forward."

ARLC chairman Peter V'landys said: "Not participating in this year's World Cup is not a decision the commission has taken lightly, but we must put the best interests of our players and officials first. Protecting them is our absolute priority.

"In the current environment, the risks to the safety, health and wellbeing of the players and officials travelling from Australia to participate in the tournament this year are insurmountable.

"The majority of NRL players are currently living away from home under difficult biosecurity protocols. They would then be required to remain under protocols and away from home for the duration of the tournament before again quarantining on return to Australia. This is too much to ask our players and officials to do."

NZRL CEO Greg Peters added: "The safety and wellbeing of our people is the main priority, and unfortunately, that cannot be guaranteed to our satisfaction.

"There are stark differences between how the pandemic is being managed in the UK compared to Australasia and recent developments have highlighted how quickly things can change.

"The tournament organisers have moved heaven and earth to make this work, so it is not an easy decision, but the COVID-19 situation in the UK shows no sign of improving, and it's simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over."

Australia have won 11 of the 15 editions of the Rugby League World Cup, while New Zealand's 2008 triumph means there has not been a winner from outside Australasia since Great Britain in 1972.

New Zealand scored over 50 points in three successive Tests for just the second time in their history as the All Blacks ran out 60-13 winners over Fiji.

Richie Mo'unga and Sevu Reece were the stars of the show in Hamilton, the former racking up 13 points with the boot and assisting three tries – his most in a Test and just the second time he has made multiple assists in a single match – while the latter scored a hat-trick.

The All Blacks beat Tonga 102-0 before their 57-23 win over Fiji in Dunedin last week, and Reece had them ahead again in the 14th minute despite Ben Volavola's early penalty.

Reece had won each of the three previous Tests in which he had scored a try and there never looked any risk of New Zealand letting their grasp slip once he went over for his second in the 30th minute, with the wing completing his maiden hat-trick before half-time.

Ardie Savea and Will Jordan touched down either side of the interval as New Zealand clicked through the gears, though Peni Ravai did at least get a consolation try on the board for Fiji.

Rieko Ioane soon had the hosts' sixth score and Samisoni Taukei'aho helped himself to a double either side of Shannon Frizell's effort to round off the win for the All Blacks, who have won their past four Tests.

Next up for New Zealand is the Bledisloe Cup against Australia, with Auckland's Eden Park hosting the first match of the three-Test series.

Dane Coles came off the bench to score four second-half tries as New Zealand beat Fiji 57-23 at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday.

The All Blacks dished out a record-equalling 102-0 rout of Tonga last weekend, but they only led Fiji by 10 points at the break – the smallest half-time advantage they have had against a non-Tier One country in a Test on home soil.

David Havili claimed a quickfire double following an opening try from Jordie Barrett, but Albert Tuisue went over for Fiji and two Ben Volavola penalties made it 21-11 at the break.

George Bridge increased New Zealand's lead when he overlapped down the left wing to touch down, but Mesulame Kunavula touched down to reduce the deficit as Fiji put up a great battle.

Coles crossed following a lineout after Fiji full-back Kini Murimurivalu was sin-binned but the Pacific Islanders responded superbly once again, earning a penalty try which also resulted in Havili being shown a yellow card.

Hooker Coles, who was only introduced 10 minutes into the second half, then took centre stage with an incredible cameo, crossing twice in the space of nine minutes to complete his treble.

Coles was on hand to add a fourth try for good measure with the Fiji forwards overpowered after Will Jordan went in the right corner to score on a night that saw prop Ethan de Groot made his All Blacks debut.

The four-try haul from Coles was the most by any forward from a Tier One country in a Test since the start of 2011.

New Zealand ran in 16 tries in a 102-0 demolition of Tonga.

Will Jordan helped himself to a five-try haul, while scrum-half Brad Weber ran in a hat-trick as the All Blacks reached a century of points for the sixth time in their history.

They are the only country to have achieved the feat more than once and it was the second time Tonga have found themselves on the receiving end.

Damian McKenzie got the scoring underway with a second-minute try and the full-back went on to claim three assists as nine All Blacks crossed overall.

Dalton Papalii's first-half double, along with Jordan and Weber getting into their work meant it was 43-0 at half-time and worse was to follow for the visitors, who were without the bulk of their northern hemisphere players due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and named 13 debutants.

Luke Jacobson, Richie Mo'unga, Rieko Ioane and Patrick Tuipulotu all got in on the act in the second half, marking an emphatic start to their 2021 schedule having won only half of their six 2020 outings.

 

Mo'unga landed seven conversions before making way for Beauden Barrett, back from his sabbatical in Japan.

Barrett added the extra for a fourth and final time after the hooter when George Bridge compounded Tonga's misery by bringing up three figures – his try a reward for a tireless performance where the wing made seven clean breaks.

New Zealand claimed victory in the World Test Championship final as they chased down a fourth-innings target of 139 with eight wickets to spare at the Ageas Bowl.

Captain Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor combined in an unbroken 96-run stand as the Black Caps, so often the bridesmaids through the years, became the inaugural winners of the tournament in the final hour of play.

Rain had threatened to spoil the showpiece fixture in Southampton, but the addition by the International Cricket Council of a reserve day allowed for an absorbing conclusion to proceedings.

India had resumed in the morning on 64-2, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli at the crease looking to build on a precarious 32-run lead.

However, both overnight batsmen fell early in proceedings to the impressive Kyle Jamieson, Kohli caught behind for 13 before Pujara (15) fell soon after, leaving the score at 72-4 as New Zealand struck two huge blows.

It would have been even better had Tim Southee held onto a chance from Rishabh Pant when he was on just five, Jamieson the unfortunate bowler. The left-hander went on to top score with 41, a crucial knock in the circumstances.

Trent Boult dismissed Pant – caught superbly by Henry Nicholls having skied the ball high into the air – as he finished with figures of 3-39, also seeing off Ajinkya Rahane (15) and Ravindra Jadeja (16).

There were also two late wickets for Southee – who ended up with 4-48 in the innings – as India slipped from 142-5 to 170 all out.

Ravichandran Ashwin gave India a glimmer of hope when he removed both New Zealand openers, Tom Latham the first to go when stumped for nine before Devon Conway was trapped lbw having contributed 19.

Yet Williamson and Taylor, who finished 52 and 47 not out respectively, did not panic when coming together at 44-2, slowly building a partnership that would blossom with the finishing line in sight.

 

Standing tall on the biggest stage

Jamieson has been a revelation for the Black Caps in Test cricket. He finished with stunning match figures of 7-61 from 46 overs, of which 22 were maidens.

In total, 83 per cent of his deliveries were pitched outside off stump, the highest rate of any bowler for New Zealand. The plan worked too, as six of his seven wickets came from balls landing in that area.

Middling returns from big names

No Indian player managed to post a half-century. Pujara, Kohli and Rahane were crucial in helping their team qualify for the final, but their low returns in the game continued a recent trend.

Since the beginning of 2019, the trio have registered a combined total of six Test centuries. In the two years prior to that, however, they had 18 hundreds between them in the longest format.

The World Test Championship final remains delicately poised after India ended the penultimate day at the Ageas Bowl on 64-2, giving them a slender lead of 32 runs.

After Monday's play was washed out at a sodden Southampton, New Zealand finally moved on from 101-2 to post 249 in their first innings, captain Kane Williamson pointing the way with 49.

There were also useful runs from the lower order – Kyle Jamieson and Tim Southee contributed 21 and 30 respectively – as the Black Caps managed to overhaul India's total of 217.

Trailing by 32 as they came out to bat for a second time, India lost opener Shubman Gill, trapped lbw by Southee for eight, before they had erased the deficit in the final session.

Rohit Sharma also fell to the same bowler for 30 in the closing stages of proceedings, leaving Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli to see their side to the close. They will resume on 12 and eight respectively.

New Zealand will hope to make early inroads on the sixth and final day, which was added by the International Cricket Council as a provision for time being lost to bad weather.

Mohammed Shami helped restrict New Zealand's advantage with 4-76, including dismissing BJ Watling and Colin de Grandhomme as the Kiwis slipped to 162-6.

Yet the resolute Williamson remained, producing a crucial 177-ball knock that included six fours. His vigil finally came to an end when he was well caught by opposite number Kohli at a wide third slip off Ishant Sharma when one shy of a half-century.

Spin duo Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja wrapped up the innings, though New Zealand's wagging tail means they appear the more likely winners on Wednesday.


Go-slow approach sees Kane able to move up

During his battling knock, Williamson surpassed Stephen Fleming (7,172) to become New Zealand's second highest run-scorer in Test cricket on 7,178, only behind current team-mate Ross Taylor (7,517) on the list. The latter reached a personal milestone while making 11, bringing up 18,000 international runs across all formats.

Shami shines with leather but still comes up short

Despite Kohli giving him every opportunity, Shami was unable to register his sixth five-wicket haul in Tests. The pace bowler produced a beauty to dismiss Watling, bowling the wicketkeeper for just one as India sensed the opportunity to seize a first-innings lead.

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