New Zealand recovered from being 15-18 down at the break to win 39-21 in their opening Test against Wales in Auckland on Saturday.
It was almost a shock result in the first international of this series as the All Blacks continued their run of struggling in their June opener.
But in the end they clicked in spells in the second half with tries from Waisake Naholo, Kieran Read and Nathan Harris adding to first-half efforts from Julian Savea and Naholo again. Aaron Cruden kicked 14 points on the night.
In reply Wales’ scorers were Taulupe Faletau and Rhys Webb to go with Dan Biggar’s 11 points in an improved effort after losing to England.
It was an open and entertaining first half in Auckland with line breaks aplenty leading to the likes of Liam Williams and Naholo starring.
New Zealand almost took the lead inside two minutes when centurion Alun Wyn Jones was penalised for hands in a ruck, but Cruden struck the upright from distance before Wales held off the ensuing attack. Cruden though made no mistake three minutes later to put his side in front.
Williams then came to the party as he gave Savea the slip down the right wing before recycled ball to the left saw the basics done well as slick passing shifted the ball out to Faletau, who dived over. Biggar was wide with the conversion but Welsh fans were smiling at 3-5.
Cue a response from New Zealand, and how. Wales wing Hallam Amos gave himself some on-the-job training when he showed Naholo too much room down the right wing and the All Black duly took it, racing to the 22. Cruden would then smartly kick cross-field to Savea who made it 8-5.
They weren’t done as then full-back Ben Smith showed his class, claiming Biggar’s high kick on his 22 before setting off to the Welsh ten-metre line and finding Naholo on his right. The Highlanders combination worked and with Naholo racing over, suddenly New Zealand were 15-5 up.
Credit to Wales though as after Biggar had made it 15-8 and then 15-11 with penalties, it was Williams again causing havoc in New Zealand’s defence. He split through, this time on halfway, and had Webb on his shoulder for the try as they went into the break in front. Remarkably this was the first time a nation had led against the All Blacks at half-time at Eden Park since the Wallabies way back in 2009.
The big question was whether the Welsh could maintain their lead in the second-half and Steve Hansen was clearly not happy with his side, taking off Savea for Beauden Barrett in the 42nd minute. That meant Ben Smith moved to the right wing as Barrett slotted in at full-back.
It didn’t take long for New Zealand to move level as Cruden kicked a penalty on 48 minutes, but Wales were back ahead soon after when Webb was the recipient of a late hit. Biggar made no mistake this time after an earlier miss as confidence continued to grow in the Welsh team.
Defence not attack was always going to be critical under the expected All Black onslaught and with front row pair Gethin Jenkins and Ken Owens leading by example, Wales managed to keep New Zealand at bay on the hour mark. One wondered, however, how long the wall would stand.
Not that long was the answer, as on 63 minutes the hosts turned down a kickable penalty with scrum-half Aaron Smith inviting wing Naholo to barge his way over. Cruden added the simple extras as New Zealand hit the front at 25-21. Wales would now need to find a moment of magic.
But it was the All Blacks who put the seal on the come-from-behind victory as replacement lock Patrick Tuipulotu set up Read under the posts on 68 minutes to make it 32-21 with Cruden’s successful conversion.
That crucially put Wales two scores behind and it could have been worse but for Wayne Barnes adjudging Cruden’s pass to TJ Perenara to be forward. The television match official argued otherwise, as did the vast majority, but Barnes decided to go with himself.
Wales, still fighting, could have set up a grandstand finish but it was their turn to be denied as Faletau was in front of the kicker before he raced over, with New Zealand then going up the other end to seal the result when Harris finished off wide out ahead of Cruden coolly slotting the extras.
Man of the match: A few men on both sides put their hand up for this award as Liam Williams and Taulupe Faletau stood out for Wales while Waisake Naholo and Kieran Read were impressive in black. But we go for Ben Smith, who again showed his importance to this New Zealand side.
Moment of the match: When the Welsh scored through Taulupe Faletau in the tenth minute, it set the tone for a brilliant game to start this June series.
Villain of the match: We don’t like to pick up on an error in such an entertaining game but Wayne Barnes calling Aaron Cruden’s pass to TJ Perenara forward was one for the archives. Despite several replays and advice from elsewhere Barnes stood by his decision. An amazing call.
For New Zealand:
Tries: Savea, Naholo 2, Read, Harris
Cons: Cruden 4
Pens: Cruden 2
Tries: Faletau, Webb
Pens: Biggar 3
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Seta Tamanivalu
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gethin Jenkins
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Scott Williams
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Will Houston (Australia)