Bay of Plenty Steamers may have kissed goodbye to a playoff place after an abject performance in losing 38-19 to Auckland at Eden Park on Saturday afternoon.
There was a lot riding on the clash with the Steamers after a top four spot, the John Drake Boot up for grabs and a first win over Auckland since 2004 at the home of New Zealand rugby.
But the Steamers started badly and never recovered against a fired-up home side, desperate to get off the bottom of the Premiership table.
Centre Lalakai Foketi dropped the ball cold from the kick-off to cede all momentum and Jono Hickey kicked a penalty for a 3-0 lead.
Bay loosie Tom Franklin and tighthead Jeff Thwaites led some spirited forward surges but simple handling errors were costly before Auckland winger Joe Ravouvou finished a try superbly.
A 10-0 scoreline after just six minutes became 17-0 four minutes later when Ravouvou slipped past two more ineffective tackles to score a soft try.
Bay of Plenty then dominated the next 15 minutes. They put multiple phases together in Auckland's 22 and had a man advantage after referee Cam Stone showed a yellow card to Auckland tighthead Marcel Renata for collapsing a maul.
Yet somehow they produced nothing from all that time on attack. Hooker James O'Reilly dropped the ball with the line open to sum up the error-strewn performance by the Steamers.
Finally, they did cross the line through halfback Richard Judd but the try was disallowed by a tough call from the TMO.
Auckland added two more penalties to lead 23-0 at halftime. Bay of Plenty had 78 per cent territory but a big, fat zero on the scoreboard after a bizarre half of rugby.
The opening play of the second half saw another unforced error with Bay turning over the ball. Auckland went on the attack, try to Vince Aso (forward pass and all), game over.
Melani Nanai nabbed another for Auckland and with the game lost the Bay went after a bonus point. Henry Stowers, Tom Franklin and Jesse Parete scored late consolation tries but they missed the crucial fourth try in the last play of the game by again dropping the ball.
Captain Keepa Mewett was dumbfounded after the game as to why they put in such a lame performance.
"I guess we were just a little bit lethargic especially when we got into their 22. We talked about picking up the energy a little bit but we just didn't quite turn up in that first half," he said.
"We knew Auckland were under a bit of pressure coming into this game and we definitely knew there was going to be a lot of intensity going into it but we just didn't end up matching that."
The three late tries scored were a minor consolation but Mewett was struggling for good news to take out of the game.
"I guess that is something to have a look at and be positive about but ultimately the boys will be pretty gutted with that effort."
Auckland 38 (Joe Ravouvou 2, Vince Aso, Melani Nanai tries; Jono Hickey 3 con, 4 pen) Bay of Plenty 19 (Henry Stowers, Tom Franklin, Jesse Parete tries; Luke Campbell 2 cons) Halftime 23-0