The All Blacks scored a late volley of tries to claim a 57-23 victory in a thrilling first of two Tests against Fiji in Dunedin on Saturday.
A rattled All Blacks struggled to put away an underprepared Fiji in Dunedin but four tries by Dane Coles in the second half resulted in a flattering scoreline.
In a match the All Blacks were expected to run away with, it was not the performance they wanted and it needed an explosive closing 30 minutes to ensure there would not be a boilover.
Ten minutes into the second half they were hanging on at 26-16.
The All Blacks were fresh from the Super Rugby season and a warm-up match against Tonga, while the Fiji squad flew in from around the world and only emerged this week from their 14 days’ quarantine after arriving in New Zealand.
While the Fijians had little match practice, they took a physical approach to the game that rocked the All Blacks.
Following their 102-0 victory over Tonga last week, the All Blacks made wholesale changes and arguably fielded a stronger side.
But it was the Fijians, with their bruising, head-on approach who started strongest and were on the board in the fifth minute with a Ben Volavola penalty.
When the Barrett brothers replied with a Jordie try converted by Beauden, Volavola closed the gap to 7-6 with a second penalty.
The All Blacks felt they had opened up a buffer with back-to-back tries by David Havili to lead 21-6 midway through the first half, but then found themselves marched back in a lineout drive from Fiji that produced a try for Albert Tuisue.
A George Bridge try early in the second half put the All Blacks ahead 26-11 but Fiji were continuing to win the forward battle and were not going to give up.
Mesulame Kunavula crashed over to close the gap to 26-16, and when Dane Coles scored the first of his tries, the Fiji forwards stormed back on attack and won a penalty try from a desperately defending All Blacks.
But from there, the All Blacks shut down the game with three more tries to Coles and one to Will Jordan.
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