Kept scoreless in a dour first 40 minutes, Auckland scored 32 unanswered second half points to down Manawatu 32-6 in their ITM Cup match in Palmerston North tonight.
The win was Auckland's sixth from eight matches, and showed they would provide Ranfurly Shield holders Southland with a tough challenge in Invercargill in six days.
Down 0-6 at the break, the Aucklanders completely dominated the second spell, securing three tries in the final five minutes to steal an unlikely bonus point win.
Steady wind and rain lashed a sodden FMG Stadium, with both teams conceding turnovers as they struggled to hang on to the soap-slippery ball. Manawatu coach Dave Rennie made six changes from the pack which was beaten 41-13 by Bay of Plenty last week, including a completely new front row.
And although Auckland muscled up from the start, and constantly pressured Manawatu round the fringes, the home team battled back and initially kept the Aucklanders honest at scrum time.
Young Auckland lock Liaki Moli again impressed, winning some good lineout ball for the visitors while openside flanker Daniel Braid also got through a power of work.
First points went to Manawatu, first five-eighth Isaac Thompson potting a 40 metre-plus penalty in the fourth minute before sinking a 30m effort as the 15-minute mark passed.
However, that was the sum of scoring in the first spell and Manawatu's solid defence meant they went into the break with a 6-0 lead.
The second half was all Auckland, as the visitors finally managed to string together some phases and force Manawatu into a succession of handling errors.
They were rewarded six minutes after the restart, after Manawatu botched their throw on a 5m lineout and Moli barged over from the resulting ruck.
Gareth Anscombe, on for Matt Berquist, added the extras, then extended the lead two minutes later with a well-struck penalty.
Auckland went 13-6 ahead with another penalty with 20 minutes gone in the second spell, and Manawatu looked to have run out of ideas to breach the well-organised defence.
Tries in the last five minutes came for Angus Ta'avao, Brenton Helleur and Dave Thomas, as Auckland's domination up front paid dividends.
Auckland 32 (Liaki Moli, Angus Ta'avao, Brenton Helleur, Dave Thomas tries; Gareth Anscombe 3 con, 2 pen) Manawatu 6 (Isaac Thompson 2 pen). Halftime: 0-6.