The All Blacks have hit their straps in the last half-hour to beat Tonga 47-9 in Newcastle and end a stuttering Rugby World Cup pool campaign on a high.
The defending champions scored five of their seven tries in the second spell at St James’ Park to qualify for the quarter-finals with a perfect pool record – matching their achievement at the previous seven tournaments.
Underwhelming at times during wins over Argentina, Namibia and Georgia, they also struggled for rhythm early in the game on Friday against the physical Pacific islanders.
Up 14-6 at halftime and just 14-9 ahead when Tongan first flyhalf Kurt Morath slotted his third penalty, New Zealand came alive.
Winger Nehe Milner-Skudder snared a double before further tries to reserve midfield back Sonny Bill Williams, flanker Sam Cane and inside centre Ma’a Nonu blew the scoreline out.
Nonu’s long-range try was a popular one in his 100th game, set up by his impressive Hurricanes teammate Milner-Skudder.
Dan Carter, who converted six tries in a welcome return to goalkicking form, finished the game in a ginger state. The veteran first five-eighth was dumped in a lifting tackle which resulted in a yellow card for Tongan replacement hooker Paula Ngauamo.
New Zealand captain Kieran Read was also sent to the sin bin when he collapsed a maul late in the first half as the cohesive Tongan pack launched a series of drives on the line.
Tonga finished the pool in fourth place, with a lone win over Namibia, but saved arguably their best rugby for the world champions.
The first half was especially physical, with the All Blacks able to cross the line just twice, through fullback Ben Smith and prop Tony Woodcock, who scored his first Test try since the 2011 World Cup final.
Morath slotted two penalties but his team were unfortunate not to be closer after dominating possession for long periods and forcing the world champions into mistakes.
It was another surprisingly rugged challenge in a relatively weak pool C for the All Blacks, who now prepare for a quarter-final in Cardiff on Saturday next week.
Their opponents will be the loser of the pool D decider between unbeaten France and Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday.