Auckland 48 Otago 7

But for one glaring detail, the statisticians might have you believe it was a fairly even skirmish at Eden Park.

Possession and territory were roughly shared, Otago won far more of the rucks and mauls and the penalty count favoured Auckland slightly; all the makings of what might have appealed as a ding-dong Top Six battle.

The one detail?


The small matter of a 41-point margin that left Auckland safely at the top of the Air New Zealand Cup table, with a home quarter-final now assured and a sense of confidence that appears to be growing by the week.

Outgunned six tries to one, Otago had oodles of ball but lacked the tools to transform possession into points, and were subsequently forced across the field or backwards, depending on the ferocity of the Auckland defence.

From scrum to lineout, to the tight-loose and beyond, Auckland had answers to everything Otago threw into the mix, scoring two tries before the break and four after resumption.

For Otago, it was another failed attempt to score their first win at Eden Park since 1976 but, for the defending champions, it was a chance to demonstrate their steady improvement this season and their readiness for next weekend's epic against Canterbury.

They announced this on Saturday night with a suffocating and willing defensive effort in which Sam Tuitupou reigned supreme, the midfield back at one stage nailing Otago wing Greg Zampach to set in motion Auckland's third try, scored by Andrew Blowers.

Well as Auckland counter-attacked, they also threatened regularly from set-piece, scoring their first try from a scrum in the sixth minute and their fourth from a well-timed but elementary loop-around midway through the second half.

Otago might have stayed in touch for at least 40 or 50 minutes but for a couple of head-scratching penalty misses from first five-eighths Nick Evans, who had a quiet game.

Auckland coach Pat Lam said afterwards he never doubted his players would create scoring opportunities from attack or defence.

"Possession is one thing - what you do with it is something else entirely," he said. "The biggest stat that's not there is the one that shows how effective you are with the ball.

"People forget that we were head and shoulders above the other teams last year in terms of scoring tries. We've clearly demonstrated our intention with ball in hand and, this year, we're just building on that."

Lam was encouraged by the manner his players were going about their business and particularly pleased that they were exerting pressure on opponents from all areas of the field, with or without possession.

"We're scoring a good share of our tries from set-piece and others are being generated out of our defence. That's just a continuation of what happened last season - we scored more tries than anyone from set-piece.

"As for creating chances out of defence, we'll go from anywhere if it's on, that's just how we are, and it's the type of game we want to play.

"It's about summing up the moment, working out where the space is and exploiting it. It's no great secret, all the teams know we're going to play that way but it can be hard to stop regardless."