Counties Manukau continued with their fine recent form when they claimed a 48-20 victory over Hawke's Bay in Napier on Thursday.
As the scoreline suggests, Counties dominated for large periods and outscored their hosts by five tries to two with Jordan Taufua leading the way with a brace and Piers Francis finished with a 23-point haul after slotting four penalties, four conversions and a drop-goal.
The win sees Counties move, provisionally, to the top of the overall standings ahead of Canterbury, who have a game in hand while Hawke's Bay are firmly rooted to the bottom of the table.
Counties made a fine start and after taking the ball through 14 phases, Piers Francis notched this game's opening points in the fourth minute, when he landed a drop goal from 15 metres out.
Five minutes later, Augustine Pulu made a telling break before stabbing a grubber kick through on the edge of Hawke's Bay's 22. Luteru Laulala gave chase and did well to gather the bouncing ball before sliding over the try-line.
Francis added the extras, which meant the visitors led 10-0 after 10 minutes of play but Ihaia West narrowed the gap with a penalty of his own in the 15th minute.
Hawke's Bay soon had their opening try – Robbie Fruean rounding off a flowing move in the right-hand corner and when West slotted the conversion the scores were level at 10-10.
Counties didn't take long to take control of proceedings though. After a superb attack, from inside their half, Pulu launched a cross-field kick which Sam Vaka gathered before diving over for his side's second try.
Counties continued to dominate and five minutes later Jordan Taufua burst through the middle of a lineout drive, just outside Hawke's Bay's 22, before crashing over for a deserved five-pointer.
West landed a penalty in the 38th minute which meant Counties led 22-13 at the interval.
The visitors continued to dominate in the second half and four penalties from Francis gave them a 34-13 lead by the 63rd minute.
Three minutes later, the Magpies struck back via a Ryan Tongia try – after Ash Dixon did well in the build-up – which gave them a glimmer of hope towards the end but it wasn't to be as late tries from Taufua and Sione Fifita sealed Counties' win.
For Hawke's Bay:
Tries: Fruean, Tongia
Cons: West 2
Pens: West 2
For Counties Manukau:
Tries: Laulala, Vaka, Taufua 2, Fifita
Cons: Francis 4
Pens: Francis 4
Hawke's Bay: 15 Ryan Tongia, 14 Robbie Fruean, 13 Jonah Lowe, 12 Billy Ropiha, 11 Mason Emerson, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Fa'alemiga Selesele, 7 Ben Hamelink, 6 Trent Boswell-Wakefield, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Geoff Cridge, 3 Ben May, 2 Ash Dixon (c), 1 Ricky Riccitelli
Replacements: 16 Jorian Tangaere, 17 Jason Long, 18 Tolu Fahamokioa, 19 Ross Filipo, 20 Hugh Renton, 21 Ellery Wilson, 22 Tiaan Falcon, 23 Matt Garland
Counties Manukau: 15 Luteru Laulala, 14 Sione Molia, 13 Sam Vaka, 12 Cardiff Vaega, 11 Sherwin Stowers, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Sootala Fa'aso'o, 7 Jordan Taufua, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Matiaha Martin, 4 Viliame Rarasea, 3 Kalolo Tuiloma, 2 Gafatasi Su'a, 1 Sean Bagshaw
Replacements: 16 Suliasi Taufalele, 17 Sean Paranihi, 18 Sione Faletau, 19 Savelio Ropati, 20 Viliami Taulani, 21 Richard Judd, 22 Joe Reynolds, 23 Sione Fifita
Referee: Nick Briant