Auckland claimed a place in the national rugby championship semifinals with a comfortable win over neighbours North Harbour at Albany today.
Auckland scored five tries in their 36-16 win, their seventh victory of the season, which lifted them to third on the points table.
They wrap up their round-robin campaign with a tricky assignment against Otago in Dunedin on Thursday night.
Assured of a place in the play-offs, Auckland will need a win there to have a shot at a home semifinal, with Taranaki and Wellington - who meet on Sunday - just ahead of them and Canterbury chasing hard with a game in hand.
The Battle of the Bridge match failed to spark the interest of years gone by, mainly because of Harbour's poor form.
They slumped to their ninth consecutive loss today and remain rooted at the bottom of the Championship table. They travel south to play Tasman next weekend, looking to avoid an embarrassing whitewash in a season that will surely result in more coaching casualties at the once proud province.
But Harbour contributed plenty to match, persistently pestering their well-performed Blues franchise partners only to let themselves down with patches of sloppy defence.
With fullback Charles Piutau a constant menace, Auckland scored three first half tries to lead 24-16 at the break.
But they were held scoreless in the third quarter before skipper Daniel Braid nailed the bonus point with a strong surge to the line in the 62nd minute.
A lot of interest - including the presence of Blues coach Sir John Kirwan and All Blacks selector Grant Fox - centred on the return of Ali Williams.
The big lock has been sidelined with a knee injury since the June tests against Ireland. But he got through an hour's work, looking assured with his lineout work and contributing plenty around the park.
At the other end of the scale, 19-year-old Lolagi Visinia was also given an hour for his debut on the left wing and the lanky sevens star showed plenty of potential as Auckland's outside backs looked dangerous.
Visinia's replacement Dave Thomas had the final say with a try five minutes from the end, courtesy of a hard, straight running from Piutau.
Auckland 36: Charles Piutau, Gareth Anscombe, Angus Ta'avao, Daniel Braid, Dave Thomas tries; Anscombe 4 con, pen.
North Harbour 16: James Parsons try; Codey Rei con, 3 pen.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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