All Blacks beat Wales 39-21 in 1st test at Eden Park
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) The new-look All Blacks overcame early jitters to launch a post-Rugby World Cup era with a 39-21 win over Wales in the first test at Eden Park on Saturday.
Wales fully stretched New Zealand, testing the worth and composure of newcomers to a world champion lineup, by matching the All Blacks' two first-half tries and taking an 18-15 lead to halftime.
New Zealand still trailed, 21-18, until the 62nd minute when winger Waisake Naholo scored the second of his two tries from a tapped penalty to put his team ahead and prolong New Zealand's 63-year winning streak over Wales.
Wales showed its share of counterattacking flair, out-muscled the All Blacks at breakdowns, and defended heroically, though it eventually conceded five tries to two.
New Zealand eventually ran away with the match by scoring three tries in the last 18 minutes and showing the coolness, even ruthlessness under pressure which won it back-to-back World Cups. Few teams could win, as New Zealand did, against a Welsh team with a full head of steam and playing to the limits of its ability.
Very little went right through the middle stages for an All Blacks side blooding several raw players and bedding in new combinations in key areas. Its eventual winning margin, while apparently convincing, was its slimmest ever in a home test against Wales.
The Welsh prevented New Zealand playing as it liked, at a high pace and with fluency, and that forced the All Blacks to reach deep into their resources of both experience and tactics to find the means to win.
They first had to control possession: Wales' aggressive defense forced them to kick far more often than they liked, and that allowed the Welsh back three to run the ball back strongly. Winger George North was particulary dangerous, making 121 meters and breaking seven tackles.
When it faced a crisis in the late stages of the second half, New Zealand went back to basics, held the ball more, worked into Welsh territory where it could apply pressure, and breached a tiring defense with tries to Naholo and captain Kieran Read.
Replacement hooker Nathan Harris added the final try in injury time to create a margin which flattered New Zealand.
English referee Wayne Barnes also disallowed a try to replacement scrumhalf TJ Perenara in one of the most bizarre decisions in recent test history. Barnes ruled the try came from a forward pass, though replays clearly showed the ball was not forward, and Barnes received that instruction from his television official.
New Zealand was still happy to take a win which extended its winning streak on Eden Park to 34 tests over 21 years. It was achieved by a team beginning a new era after the retirements of six of its most experienced players, including former captain Richie McCaw and flyhalf Dan Carter.
Read led the team well in his 10th test in charge, but flyhalf Aaron Cruden had a mixed night, landing six of nine attempts at goal.
''It was exactly what we thought it was going to be,'' Read said. ''The Welsh were fired up and we maybe started a bit too well. The boys were pretty eager but then realized what test rugby is all about: You've got to work really hard.''
Wales showed its intent with an early try to back-rower Toby Faletau after All Blacks fullback Ben Smith lost a contest for the ball in the air. New Zealand hit back with tries to wingers Julian Savea and Naholo to lead 15-5 after 17 minutes.
Savea fetched a crosskick from Cruden for his try but he missed two crucial tackles on a poor night, and was substituted early in the second half. His brother Ardie Savea won a test debut, as did center Seta Tamanivalu, while Ellis Jenkins played his first test for Wales.
The hosts let their intensity slip in the second quarter and Wales closed the gap with penalties to Dan Biggar before a try to scrumhalf Rhys Webb gave them a first ever halftime lead against the All Blacks in New Zealand.
When New Zealand knuckled down to the hard work of ball retention, the tide of the match changed. Naholo's and Read's tries in a five-minute span deflated Welsh morale.
''We wanted to come and play some rugby. We knew we had to score tries,'' captain Sam Warburton said. ''Our counterattack was pretty good in patches but, credit to New Zealand, you make one mistake and its seven points, and two mistakes turn into 14 points.''
The second test is in Wellington on Saturday.