Auckland will join Canterbury, Waikato and Wellington in the ITM Cup semi-finals after thrashing Tasman 49-10 at Eden Park.
Auckland will join Canterbury, Waikato and Wellington in the ITM Cup semi-finals after thrashing Tasman 49-10 at Eden Park on Sunday.
19-year-old Gareth Anscombe announced himself as one of New Zealand's most promising fly-halves, scoring 34 points to guide his team to their first semi-finals appearance since 2007.
After starring in Auckland's victory over Otago last week, Anscombe stepped up another gear against the Makos, scoring a hat-trick of tries and landing eight out of nine kicks in a superb performance which will be sure catch the eye of a few Super Rugby coaches.
Despite Auckland's semi-final aspirations going on the line against Tasman, they hardly looked like a side playing sudden death rugby as they came out sluggish and lacking any real immediacy in the opening exchanges.
But they managed to turn things around in the second stanza, scoring four second half tries to clinch the much needed bonus point and book themselves a home semi-final against Waikato on Saturday.
Anscombe and James Marshall traded early penalties in a scrappy opening to the game before halfback Toby Morland scampered through a gaping hole five metres out to score for the home side after 28 minutes.
Two further Anscombe penalties either side of half-time took Auckland's score to 16-3 as their chances of a home semi-final looked to be slipping away.
But two quick fire tries in the space of three minutes had Auckland back on the front foot.
First it was Anscombe, stepping in and away to leave scrum-half Steve Alfeld grasping at thin air as he dived over under the posts, before full-back Brent Ward sliced through a drifting defensive line and beat two players to crash over.
Marshaled superbly by captain Benson Stanley who really thrived in the second half – making excellent breaks and pulling off some bone crunching tackles, Auckland started to play with confidence and belief rarely seen from them this year.
They did however stray away from their structures for a period of ten minutes as the Makos made a comeback, Kade Poki on the end of some slick handling to score for the visitors.
But their retort was shortlived as Anscombe, shifted to the wing as Dave Thomas and Ben Atiga went off injured, showed an incredible turn of pace to get on the outside of Robbie Malneek and score the decisive fourth try.
Auckland however were far from finished, Waratahs-bound Atieli Pakalani finishing off a Brent Ward break to score after 71 minutes, before Anscombe completed his hat-trick on the siren, toeing the ball ahead 65 metres and diving on it over the line to score.
Tries: Morland, Anscombe 3, Ward, Pakalani
Cons: Anscombe 5
Pens: Anscombe 3
Pen: J Marshall