Auckland emerged unbeaten from an arduous week, blowing past Taranaki today to earn their third victory in seven days and storm to the top of the ITM Cup.
Auckland had been patchy in their previous four wins this season, relying on a little luck and a lack of quality opposition to make a perfect start to the competition, but they burst to life in New Plymouth to score six tries in a 51-15 triumph.
Wellington can overtake Auckland at the top of the Premiership with a win in Northland tomorrow, but Auckland will be more than happy with second spot after a gruelling schedule.
After barely surviving a testing encounter with Counties Manukau on Wednesday, last year's beaten finalists showed few signs of fatigue to see off a spirited Taranaki on the home side's Heritage Day.
There have been a few famous wins over Auckland in Taranaki's 120-year history, but a third-minute try from Hadleigh Parkes was an early blow in the search for another.
Boosted by striking the first blow, Auckland had better of the opening stages, though they were hardly fluid in attack and put plenty of ball to ground. And James Broadhurst took advantage of Auckland's profligacy, burrowing over from close range after Kane Barrett turned down a shot at goal in favour of kicking for the corner.
A quick-fire double - courtesy of a clever tap-and-go from Lolagi Visinia and a debut try to wing Vince Aso - saw Auckland take a 21-10 lead to the break but Taranaki were unlucky to be behind, with two potential tries negated by forward passes in the build-up.
The home side took that disappointment in their stride and started the second spell much stronger, before a short lineout move close to the line saw Rhys Marshall exchange quick passes with Blade Thomson and muscle his way over in the corner.
Just when Taranaki were threatening to again eat away at the six-point deficit, Auckland snaffled the ball in a ruck and Malakai Fekitoa beat five would-be tacklers in a 60-metre solo run to score one of the best tries of the competition.
And Fekitoa's fantastic effort kick-started Auckland's attack as, if anything, the home side seemed tired as the game wore on. First, Auckland's backs found plenty of holes down the right hand side as Visinia grabbed his second, before an intercept from Saleaula Silipa clinched the contest.
The floodgates were well and truly open and there was even time for Orene Ai'i, in his first game for the province in eight years, to kick a late penalty and bring up the half century.
Taranaki 15 (Broadhurst, Marshall tries; Brooks pen, con)
Auckland 51 (Parkes, Visinia 2, Aso, Fekitoa, Silipa, tries; Hickey 4 cons, pen, Weepu pen, 2 cons, Ai'i pen)