IT may have been New Zealand’s last game of an exhausting season but it was Wales that ran out of steam at Principality Stadium.

A nip-and-tuck contest, as ever, went the way of the All Blacks 33-18 as Welsh legs tired in Cardiff.

The world champions may have been without a raft of stars up front, notably talisman number eight Kieran Read, but they can do a good job of plugging the gaps thanks to their impressive depth.

Warren Gatland doesn’t quite have that luxury and they were unable to keep the intensity for the full 80 minutes, not having the oomph on the bench to really threaten the best side on the planet.

Perhaps with Sam Warburton, Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams, George North and a fully-fit Justin Tipuric it would have been different. The task got even harder when scrum-half Rhys Webb and lock Jake Ball were forced off early on.

There were some fine performances – notably front rowers Rob Evans and Ken Owens plus flanker Josh Navidi while Dragons wing Hallam Amos had his moments – but there was always the feeling that the All Blacks had enough quality to score enough points to get the job done.

However, the same display next week should be enough to at least earn one major scalp this autumn with a finale against the unpredictable Springboks.

Wales started strongly, racking up 19 phases to put the pressure on the All Blacks defence but without them cracking.

Instead their first big chance came from the visitors' own error in attack, centre Sonny Bill Williams' horrendous pass in midfield hacked on by Dan Biggar to force opposite number Beauden Barrett to carry the ball over for a five-metre scrum slap bang in the middle of the field.

Rhys Webb sniped before 13 more charges at the line until the Kiwis eventually conceded a penalty for not rolling away, Leigh Halfpenny making it 3-0 after eight minutes of Welsh dominance.

New Zealand were strangely subdued and the hosts, hindered by Webb going off following a bang to the head, needed to make it count.

Instead the world champions struck with their first sniff with Waisake Naholo finishing acrobatically in the right corner after a break by Rieko Ioane (and missed tackle by wing Steff Evans) then a calm assist from scrum-half Aaron Smith. Barrett converted superbly from the touchline.

New Zealand had one chance and took it while, after lock Jake Ball became injury victim number two, another Welsh trip to the 22 ended without a try when Taulupe Faletau knocked on a yard shy of the line.

Wales kept posing questions of a slightly sluggish New Zealand defence but were unable to make it count on scoreboard with Halfpenny missing a kick he would normally slot from the tee.

Yet another chance went begging when a superb charge into the 22 by flanker Josh Navidi was followed by Dragons wing Hallam Amos shelling a simple pass on the right wing.

Instead Wales had to settle for another Halfpenny three-pointer to cut the deficit in the 32nd minute after Steff Evans was blocked when chasing his own chip.

Gatland’s men were on top, yet the Blacks were looking much more threatening with the little ball that they had with Naholo bullying Evans.

New Zealand had enjoyed little pressure in enemy territory, perhaps the reason why they went for the corner from a penalty with five minutes of the half left.

The drive was stopped bur after a second penalty was quickly taken, then a third, it was the huge right winger who went over for try number two despite the best efforts of Halfpenny.

Barrett’s conversion from right next to the white line was pulled and it seemed as though they would be going into the break with a 12-6 lead after a half in which they had predominantly been on the back foot.

But Wales had one last play and crossed with a wonderful strike move, Amos hitting the line and then calmly passing to Biggar to put centre Scott Williams over on his 50th Test appearance.

Halfpenny, like Barrett, pulled his kick and Wales had to settle for a one-point deficit rather than a one-point advantage.

The pattern stayed the same in the opening exchanges, Wales stretching the All Blacks without quite breaking them while the world champs looked threatening off the scraps that came their way.

The hosts were staying in the fight. In fact they were taking it to the New Zealanders with Biggar slamming a long-range penalty to the corner with half an hour left.

Alas the chance went begging but this was no intimidating, imperious All Blacks side they were up against.

That being said, they are always a formidable one featuring game-breakers and they began to enjoy a bit more territory as Welsh limbs tired.

And the key blow happened in the 57th minute when possession was worked to the left for Ioane to take three defenders out of the game before a stroke of good fortune, the ball bouncing up for Anton Leinert-Brown to go under the sticks to make Barrett’s conversion a routine one for a 19-11 advantage.

Wales had to chase the game… but instead that made their task all the harder with Ioane picking off a Biggar pass to go under the posts, Barrett making it 26-11 with 16 minutes to play.

To the home side’s credit they came storming back but somehow couldn’t make it the final few centimetres to get over the line.

Blacks captain Sam Whitelock did, however, see yellow as Wales kept the pressure on as the clock ticked towards the 70s.

And try number two promptly came when replacement scrum-half Gareth Davies scampered over from the following scrum with Halfpenny’s conversion making it 26-18.

With nine minutes to play did Wales have a sniff against 14 men?

They certainly needed to score again sharply. Instead it was the world champions who conjured a lovely strike play off a scrum for Ioane to scorch over in the 75th minute and end any slim hopes.

Wales: L Halfpenny; H Amos, S Williams (J Roberts 57), O Williams, S Evans; D Biggar (R Priestland 63), R Webb (G Davies 8); R Evans (W Jones 57), K Owens (K Dacey 75), T Francis (L Brown 75), J Ball (C Hill 18), A W Jones (captain), A Shingler (J Tipuric 70), J Navidi, T Faletau.

Scorers: tries – S Williams, G Davies; conversion – L Halfpenny; penalties – L Halfpenny (2)

New Zealand: D McKenzie; W Naholo (L Sopoaga 70), R Crotty (A Lienert-Brown 18), S B Williams, R Ioane; B Barrett, A Smith (TJ Perenara 64); K Hames (W Crockett 59), C Taylor (N Harris 70), N Laulala (O Tu’ungafasi 45), P Tuipulotu (S Barrett 45), S Whitelock (captain), L Squire, S Cane, L Whitelock (M Todd 45).

Scorers: tries – W Naholo (2), A Lienert-Brown, R Ioane (2); conversions – B Barrett (4)

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)

Argus star man: Rob Evans