Waisake Naholo’s second try of the match with about 20 minutes remaining yesterday helped the All Blacks overhaul a combative Wales side to record a 39-21 victory at Eden Park.
Julian Savea, new captain Kieran Read and replacement hooker Nathan Harris also scored tries for the All Blacks, with flyhalf Aaron Cruden slotting four conversions and two penalties.
No. 8 Toby Faletau and scrumhalf Rhys Webb claimed tries for Wales, with Dan Biggar adding three penalties and a conversion, as the visitors had looked like they could end a 63-year losing streak against the All Blacks.
However, the New Zealand bench and final quarter proved to be the difference again, just as they were two years ago in Cardiff, when Wales led 16-15 with 10 minutes remaining before the visitors scored three unanswered tries.
“It was brilliant for 60 minutes,” Wales coach Warren Gatland told reporters. “We were blowing a bit. They keep coming at you. They can keep putting you under pressure for longer periods.”
“We would have learned a heck of a lot from that,” he added.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen had spoken of starting a new era after the international retirement of six stalwarts following last year’s rugby World Cup, but the rustiness that has blighted the first match of previous seasons returned.
At times they were brilliant, only for a comedy of errors to occur in the same movement, as they made numerous handling errors that undid all the pressure they had built.
It was not until the introduction of the replacements, especially the dynamic Patrick Tuipulotu and Ardie Savea, that the All Blacks managed to overpower Wales.
“You don’t win Test matches without quality performances, while this one was a little rusty, all our first Test matches of the year we’re rusty,” Hansen said.
“It was a matter of staying calm and working through the things we weren’t doing that well and being more accurate,” he added.
“It was about not getting rattled, listening to the leaders and tidying up the things that were not great,” he said.
Wales scored both tries from long range, the first to Faletau following superbly controlled phase play after fullback Ben Smith had dropped a high kick inside his own half.
Wales fullback Liam Williams produced his second burst from deep, which ended in scrumhalf Webb’s try. Biggar’s conversion gave Wales an 18-15 lead at the break.
Biggar and Cruden traded penalties in the second half before Naholo and Read struck in quick succession and Harris crossed the line after the hooter to complete the scoring.
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