Wales needed a massive defensive effort to get past Samoa on Sunday but coach Warren Gatland believes the result is a mark of his side’s fitness.
It was far from champagne rugby but Wales will be happy to take any positive result as they overturned a 10-6 half-time deficit against a side that beat them in the 1991 and 1999 World Cups.
A 17-10 victory at Waikato Stadium means Wales remain on course for a last-eight clash - probably against Ireland - in Wellington on October 8, assuming that can beat Namibia and Fiji.
“I thought we showed some great character,” said Gatland after Wales’ first World Cup appearance in his home town.
“A few years ago, or 12 months earlier, we might not have won that game. We will dissect the performance over the next couple of days and see where we can improve.
“In the first half, we tried to play a bit too much rugby, but our whole World Cup was about going out in that second half and digging deep. And they did that.
“I thought our conditioning was great. The longer the game went on, the stronger and fitter we looked.
“We knew this was a must-win game, and (a quarter-final place) is in our own hands isn’t it?”
Wales could yet be left to count the cost as fitness updates are awaited on full-back James Hook (shoulder) and flanker Dan Lydiate (ankle), whose injuries will require scans.
“(Lydiate) has rolled his ankle. He was a big loss to us defensively,” said Gatland.
“The number of tackles he makes, he’s a player that doesn’t get a lot of recognition. He cannot put any weight on (the ankle) so we will see in the next 24 to 48 hours.”
Captain Sam Warburton highlighted the colossal defensive effort which saw Wales make 142 tackles and prevent Samoa from scoring in the second period.
“I don’t think you can fault the attitude of the players,” said Warburton, who dedicated Wales’ win to the families of four miners killed at Gleision Colliery near Pontardawe earlier this week.
“I think at half-time there was no panic. We knew we had the fitness levels to take it to 80 minutes.
“We said if we lost the chances are we were probably going home, so there was a lot of pressure on the boys.
“Both sides didn’t disappoint - we knew it was going to be an immensely tough battle. Samoa are very physical, and it was a tough game for us.
“We wanted to keep the ball in play as much as we could and back our fitness levels towards the end of the match.
“Leigh (Halfpenny) came on and added some great momentum to the side, and Shane finished it off as we’ve seen him do a million times before. If our backs get a sniff, they are pretty handy.”
Centre Jamie Roberts echoed his captain’s comments.
“In the first half, I think we lost the battle at the breakdown,” said Roberts.
“They (Samoa) seemed to target it, and we weren’t good enough in the contact area and we kept losing the ball.
“Maybe in that first half we also tried to play a bit too much. That is always the danger, certainly when the sun is out, and I suppose we were guilty of that.
“We came out for the second half and we knew it was going to take a big defensive effort. They are pretty big guys, the Samoans.
“There was some great goal-line defence from us, and not to concede a point in the second half was a pretty special effort. We won ugly, but it was a win.
“It’s a bit of the opposite to last week (against South Africa) to be honest. It wasn’t a champagne performance by a long way, but the win was vital.
“As soon as the final whistle went last week, the preparation for this game was all about winning. That was all that mattered.”
“Samoa certainly fly with ball in hand. They are really powerful guys, but our fitness showed in the last 20 minutes, which was pleasing.
“There was no panic at half-time. We had just conceded a try, but we had spoken about it in the week that we might have been down by a try.
“They are a good side - you are not going to put 30 or 40 points on them - and we regrouped at half-time. We wanted to play a direct, good territorial game, and our defence was very strong.
“Defensively, we can take a lot out of it.”