New Zealand were made to work hard but eventually got the job done as they beat Wales 33-18 in their end-of-year Test in Cardiff on Saturday.
In a tough and uncompromising encounter, both sides deserve credit for making this the entertaining spectacle that it was and the All Blacks eventually outscored their hosts five tries to two with Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane scoring a brace apiece.
The match started at a frenetic pace and the opening exchanges were characterised by several brutal collisions. This resulted in Wales' Rhys Webb and Jake Ball as well as New Zealand's Ryan Crotty having to leave the field inside the opening quarter due to injuries.
Wales dominated the possession and territorial stakes during the opening half and after several All Blacks strayed offside on defence, Leigh Halfpenny made them pay by slotting the resulting penalty which gave Wales a 3-0 lead after nine minutes.
New Zealand were soaking up the early pressure and their patience was rewarded in the 14th minute when, after a superb line break from Rieko Ioane, the ball was shifted wide to Waisake Naholo who rounded off in acrobatic fashion in the right-hand corner.
Beauden Barrett added the extras and although Wales continued to dominate as the half progressed, they had little to show for their efforts.
Another Halfpenny penalty in the 32nd minute narrowed the gap to a point but the All Blacks extended their lead five minutes later when Naholo crossed for his second try after Sonny Bill Williams was stopped just short of the try-line in the build-up.
Despite that setback, Wales did not panic and on the stroke of half-time, they struck back in superb fashion with a superb try from Scott Williams. This, after Hallom Amos made a superb line break from close to the halfway line before offloading to Dan Biggar. He did well to get a pass out to the on-rushing Williams who crossed in the left-hand corner to the delight of the home fans.
Halfpenny failed to convert which meant the All Blacks held a slender 12-11 lead as teams changed sides at half-time.
Wales continued to dominate after the restart but just like the opening exchanges in the first half, they could not round off their attacking efforts. And once again it was the All Blacks who would score the first try of the half albeit in fortunate circumstances.
Ioane, who was brilliant throughout, set up the score with a powerful run inside Wales' 22 and when he was eventually brought to ground by three defenders, the ball bounced into the hands of Anton Liener-Brown, who cantered in for an easy try.
Barrett converted which meant the All Blacks were now leading 19-11. This meant Wales had to take risks on attack which they did but they were dealt a blow in the 62nd minute when Ioane intercepted a Biggar pass just inside the home side's half before sprinting away to score his side's fourth try.
That knocked the wind out of Wales' sails but they continued to fight and soon found themselves camped inside New Zealand's 22. And they were handed a lifeline when All Blacks skipper Sam Whitelock was sent to the sin bin after a cynical foul on defence close to his try-line.
And shortly afterwards, Wales made full use of their numerical advantage when Gareth Davies made a break off the back of a scrum on New Zealand's five-metre line and stepped past TJ Perenara before crossing for his side's second try.
Halfpenny slotted the conversion which meant Wales were still in this game with the All Blacks leading 26-18 with 10 minutes left on the clock.
But five minutes before the end, the world champions sealed the win when Ioane glided through a gaping hole in Wales' defence before diving over for his second try despite the attentions of two defenders.
Tries: S Williams, Davies
Pens: Halfpenny 2
For New Zealand:
Tries: Naholo 2, Linert-Brown, Ioane 2
Cons: Barrett 4
Yellow Card: S Whitelock
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Hallam Amos, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Owen Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Jamie Roberts
New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Samuel Whitelock (c), 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Kane Hames
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Frank Murphy (Ireland)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)