Bulldozing 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 led heading into the final 20 minutes in Auckland 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 after the full-time hooter with his side’s fifth five-pointer.
The match was the start of a new era for the All Blacks, who lost half-a-dozen seasoned campaigners after they successfully defended the World Cup last year.
Traditionally slow starters to an international season, they again showed signs of rust, but their ability to finish strongly proved decisive.
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.
After first five-eighth Aaron Cruden got New Zealand on the board with a penalty, Wales shocked their hosts by taking the lead.
From a midfield scrum, they went both sides of the field before No.8 Taulupe Faletau scored in the corner.
The home side hit back with two tries, one each to wings Julian Savea and Naholo.
Naholo, who was dangerous with ball in hand all night, 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, then made amends by gathering in a high ball and embarking on a huge break that was finished off by Naholo.
The All Blacks looked to be in control at 15-5 up, but handling errors and turnovers stalled their momentum.
Wales closed the gap with two penalties from first five-eighth Dan Biggar.
They then hit the front again when fullback Liam Williams made an incisive run from inside his own half.
Williams brushed past two tacklers before sending halfback Rhys Webb over, with Biggar adding the extras.
Wales came close to a third try as they pounded at the All Blacks line in the two minutes before halftime but the home side showed good defensive resilience.
Cruden and Biggar traded penalties early in the second half before the All Blacks got back in front 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.
Read’s try gave the All Blacks breathing space with 13 minutes to go.
The second of the series’ three Tests is in Wellington next Saturday night.