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All Blacks hold off Wales to win 39-21

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 11/06/2016 By Robert Lowe

Blockbusting wing Waisake Naholo has scored two tries as the All Blacks held off a determined Welsh challenge to win the first Test in Auckland 39-21.

It took a strong finish from New Zealand to get past the visitors, who were in the lead heading into the final quarter on Saturday night.

But Naholo's second try was followed by new skipper Kieran Read touching down, before replacement hooker Nathan Harris added the icing with his side's fifth five-pointer after the full-time hooter.

The match was the beginning of a new era for the All Blacks, who lost half-a-dozen seasoned campaigners after they successfully defended the World Cup in 2015.

Traditionally slow starters to an international season, they again showed signs of rust through handling errors and turnovers, but their ability to finish strongly proved decisive.

Coach Steven Hansen was happy with what he saw, saying he couldn't have asked for more from a group that had a new captain and new faces coming in.

While the performance "wasn't perfect by any stretch of imagination", he pointed to the way the home side responded under pressure.

"We went in at halftime behind, a young team - how were we going to react to it?

"I think the response we got was first-rate and they put a line in the sand."

Hansen was confident the All Blacks would be better for the performance.

"Not doubt about it, but you have to start somewhere and this group has started."

Wales were coming off a disappointing defeat to England a fortnight ago, but they showed plenty of enterprise in attack and defended resolutely until they tired at the end.

Coach Warren Gatland described their performance as "brilliant for 60 minutes".

"We had to be brave, we had to be bold and we played some rugby," he said.

"I thought a couple of the tries we scored were outstanding and we could have scored a couple more."

But he said the All Blacks showed they were the best team in the world in the way they kept going for the full 80 minutes.

Wales went in front early after No.8 Taulupe Faletau finished off an expansive attack that went both sides of the field.

The home side hit back with two tries, one each to wings Julian Savea and Naholo.

Naholo, who after a couple of early errors proved dangerous with ball in hand, created the first with a break before Cruden's cross kick was pulled in by Savea.

Fullback Ben Smith, whose knock-on had given Wales field position for Faletau's try made amends by gathering in a high ball and embarking on a huge break that was finished by Naholo.

Wales closed the gap with two penalties from first five-eighth Dan Biggar.

They hit the front again when fullback Liam Williams made an incisive run from inside his own half before sending halfback Rhys Webb over, with Biggar adding the extras.

Cruden and Biggar traded penalties early in the second half before the All Blacks went ahead when turning down an easy penalty attempt to tie the score.

Instead, halfback Aaron Smith opted for a quick tap and Naholo powered over from six metres out.

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