It was billed as a world heavyweight title fight between the champions from the two hemispheres and the All Blacks worked their way through a test of punch and counter-punch to eventually claim a dominant win over Wales on Sunday.
Duncan Johnstone writes for RugbyHeaven NZ that in the end it could almost be claimed a knockout with Jerome Kaino scoring their second try right on fulltime to complete a 29-9 victory in front of a crowd of 74,067.
The Tri-Nations champions soaked up everything the Six Nations threw at them – and there was plenty of that for almost three-quarters of the match – before closing out the game with a dominant final phase.
The frustrated Welsh were left searching for their first win in 55 years over New Zealand while the All Blacks are just one victory away from their third Grand Slam.
The All Blacks head to London now to play England for the final leg of the tour. What shape the English will be in after their horrific 6-42 loss to South Africa earlier today is anyone’s guess.
The All Blacks were guilty of another slow start but were also again rewarded for their second-half urgency as the fourth test on this tour followed a familiar path. The Welsh, full of fire in the first spell, hardly had a sniff in the second.
As they have done in every test on this trip the All Blacks kept their opponents scoreless in the second half and they are yet to concede a try in their Grand Slam attempt.
Neither side was prepared to give away anything at the breakdowns and South African referee Jonathan Kaplan was forced to make some big calls with his whistle dominating proceedings.
The New Zealand lineout was again solid and the scrum work noticeably went up a level to give some real ascendancy in this key area.
Kaino capped a strong match with his try.
The Welsh rush defence proved effective, giving the New Zealand backline little room through the midfield.
Just as they had done the week before against the Irish, Mils Muliaina and Sitiven Sivivatu provided much of the backline thrust
Left wing Shane Williams had a lively game for the home side and heralded young players Lee Byrne (fullback) and Andy Powell (No 8) had their moments while skipper Ryan Jones was tireless with his blindside flanker’s work.
The haka was again sensational. It wasn’t just Ali Williams who was in a face-off this week. The entire squad stood locked in an eyeball stare with their rivals for a full two minutes and referee Kaplan tried in vain to budge them for the kickoff.
When the whistle finally blew to start proceedings under the closed roof of this magnificent stadium Wales immediately went on attack and earned an early penalty from a Ma’a Nonu high tackle on fullback Lee Byrne. Stephen Jones goaled.
The All Blacks struggled for field position and paid the price again, being penalised at the breakdown, allowing Jones to remind them of the danger of his boot with a goal from wide out.
Finally the All Blacks got into the shadow of the Welsh posts and the pressure told with a penalty immediately conceded at the ruck in the 17th minute. Dan Carter got them under way from 15m.
Carter missed with a penalty from wide soon after and Wales took advantage of the letoff, sweeping downfield and putting extreme pressure on the New Zealand line where Kaplan penalised them for diving over the top of the ruck. Jones did the business again.
The All Blacks struggled for momentum and the Welsh continued to look dangerous, especially when Byrne made a half-break inside the New Zealand 22 but he offloaded to Brad Thorn.
The breakdowns continued to be the curse of the match and this time it was the All Blacks who got the advantage, allowing Carter to goal right on halftime and cut the home team’s lead to 9-6 at the break.
Carter was on target immediately after the break as well to level the scores.
The All Blacks then made a series of surges on the Welsh line. They had one try attempt disallowed by the video ref.
Finally being able to get a bit of regular possession, the All Blacks managed to build some pressure and eventually worked an overlap on the right for Nonu to get over the line for a cherished try which Carter converted to give the tourists the lead for the first time in the 54th minute.
New Zealand continued to operate at the right end of the field and their relentless scrum work earned them another penalty handy to the posts which Carter landed to give them some breathing space.
Wales strangely subbed Jones who was having perhaps his best game against the All Blacks in eight tests. James Hook came on and soon missed a penalty attempt that would have kept some heat on.
Instead they saw Carter land his fifth penalty five minutes from the finish to make the match safe.
There was time for Kaino to inflate the score nicely on the final whistle.
This was certainly a real contest for Graham Henry’s side on his old stomping ground and one that was worthy of its pre-match hype.
But it again proved the dominance of the south over the north. And this year the All Blacks are leading the charge again.
Wales 9: Stephen Jones 3 pens.
New Zealand 29: Ma’a Nonu, Jerome Kaino tries; Dan Carter 5 pens, 2 cons.Tweet