It was far from classic All Black rugby but New Zealand turned on enough style to overcome Tonga 47-9 at St James' Park in Newcastle on Friday.
New Zealand were only 14-6 in front after 48 minutes, which typified a somewhat laboured pool campaign, but then they turned on the style in a bonus-point win.
Centurion Ma'a Nonu scored a late try to celebrate the occasion but it was the man who set him up, Nehe Milner-Skudder, who was the star of the show, scoring two tries to nail down a starting place for next weekend's quarter-final showdown.
Ben Smith, Tony Woodcock, Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Cane were New Zealand's other try-scorers, with Dan Carter kicking six from seven efforts.
Tonga, who stunned France in their pool finale four years ago, were hoping for a repeat result that would repair the damage of a poor Rugby World Cup.
While they started the fixture well, the Tongans eventually went behind on thirteen minutes when lovely handling down the right wing involving Ben Smith, Milner-Skudder and Cane led to the full-back diving over. It oozed calmness before Carter added the extras for a 7-0 lead.
Tonga refused to go away though and were rightly rewarded with points on the board through Kurt Morath's boot. It was a nerve-settling kick for the number ten after last week's dismal performance off the tee against Argentina. Tony Woodcock it was who was penalised for not rolling away.
New Zealand, despite making a handful of uncharacteristic handling errors, did manage to cross for a second try on the half-hour mark thanks to Woodcock making amends for his earlier indiscretion. Although he would be the first to thank Aaron Smith for a delicate pull-back pass assist.
Being 14-3 down did not deter Tonga, far from it, as they came back with real purpose and duly set up camp in the New Zealand 22 for the remainder of the first-half. First captain Kieran Read went to the sin-bin for pulling down a maul and then three scrums tested the All Blacks' resolve.
Fortunately for Steve Hansen's men no further players saw yellow and the half would eventually end with the TMO adjudging no try from a close-range carry.
Hansen would have been livid with his side's error-strewn showing in the opening 40 minutes and things didn't improve after the interval, with centurion Nonu kicking straight out on his ten-metre line. With Woodcock limping off with a leg injury, it was a very disappointing 45 minutes.
Tonga meanwhile were growing in confidence and after a second Morath penalty, the lead was reduced to eight points with half-an-hour remaining.
Cue the All Black onslaught as with a flick of the switch, they put the result beyond doubt with two tries in a six-minute spell that took the wind out of Tonga. First it was a well weighted pass from Carter out to right wing Milner-Skudder and then replacement Beauden Barrett kicked through a lovely grubber that found the in-form finisher for his double. After Carter's conversions, New Zealand were 28-9 up.
They were in full flow and when scrum-half Smith's no-look pass back inside found replacement Williams five metres out for a run-in, the doubters were silenced and Hansen could relax, especially with Tonga down to fourteen men after Paula Ngauamo saw yellow for a tip tackle.
New Zealand weren't done and as the holes opened in Tonga's defence, Cane capitalised before fittingly Nonu was given a free run to the line by Milner-Skudder to mark his 100th Test appearance with a try. Not even Carter's first miss of the night could dampen that second-half performance as the All Blacks march on to Cardiff in positive mood.
Man of the match: What a year it has been for Nehe Milner-Skudder. Given a chance by the Hurricanes after strong ITM Cup campaign with Manawatu, he hasn't looked back. The right wing crossed twice in the game to take his tournament tally to four.
Moment of the match: Whatever was said at half-time by Steve Hansen certainly did the trick but a coach can only do so much. New Zealand's players moved up two gears around the 50 minute mark, which Ireland or France have to be wary of.
Villain of the match: A couple of let's say, risky tackles, but otherwise a clean game.
For New Zealand:
Tries: B Smith, Woodcock, Milner-Skudder 2, Williams, Cane, Nonu
Con: Carter 6
Yellow: Read (pulling down maul – 38 mins)
Pen: Morath 3
Yellow: Ngauamo (tip tackle – 68 mins)
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.
Tonga: 15 Vungakoto Lilo, 14 Telusa Veainu, 13 Siale Piutau, 12 Latiume Fosita, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Kurt Morath, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Viliami Ma'afu, 7 Nili Latu (c), 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Joseph Tuineau, 4 Tukulua Lokotui, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Elvis Taione, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Paula Ngauamo, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Steve Mafi, 20 Jack Ram, 21 Samisoni Fisilau, 22 Viliami Tahitua, 23 Will Helu.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)
by Adam Kyriacou