Auckland 38 Hawkes Bay 3

Key Points:

Another rugby fairytale is over - although in more predictable circumstances as Auckland slogged into the Air NZ Cup decider by ending Hawke's Bay Cinderella season with a relentless 38-3 victory at Eden Park tonight.

Auckland will now seek to avenge their surprise loss in last year's semifinal - and preserve their unbeaten season - when they host Wellington, 26-21 conquerors of Canterbury, next Saturday.

Hawke's Bay bold campaign dissolved in appalling conditions as Auckland executed a near flawless wet-weather game by building an impregnable 24-3 advantage at halftime.

Auckland had a swirling breeze at their back in the first half. But regardless of that advantage, the Ranfurly Shield holders were far too composed as they ruthlessly ground down Hawke's Bay's resistance with a series of composed close quarter drives - the same softening up tactics that paid dividends during their 38-11 sixth-round victory in Napier.

Brad Mika was held up under the posts as early as the second minute after Auckland ominously started the match by stringing several phases and although Isa Nacewa kicked the resulting penalty there was an air of inevitability about Auckland's first five-pointer when Sam Tuitupou turned down the next kickable penalty.

Lock Kurtis Haiu snared the resulting lineout possession and although Hawke's Bay bravely resisted the first waves, the arrival of Nacewa, Tuitupou, Ben Atiga and Benson Stanley to the maul succeeded in propelling Auckland prop Saimone Taumoepeau over in the 15th minute.

Wing David Smith pushed the lead out to 17-0 seven minutes later, again the result of huge pressure as Auckland again rarely deviated close from the ruck as they advanced towards the Hawke's Bay goal line.

Nacewa, who brought up a century of points for the campaign with the early penalty, again added the extras before the pivot's pinpoint chip behind an advancing defensive line enabled Tuitupou to sneak a third try from Ben Batger's grasp six minutes from the break.

Hoping the ball would squirt over the goal line so he could force it, Batger's hesitation enabled Tuitupou to pounce, encapsulating the Australian wing's luckless night.

Batger was fortunate to still be on the field after his fullback Israel Dagg flattened his retreating teammate with a clearing kick midway through the first half.

While that setback was self inflicted, Auckland created the serious damage as a dominant pack muscled up superbly by dominating the breakdown and creating havoc in Hawke's Bay's lineout.

And on the rare occasion Nacewa did not astutely kick for territory, the Auckland backline's handling was also remarkable considering the elements.

Auckland were kept scoreless in the second half until nine minutes from the close when replacement Troy Flavell finished off another example of sure-handed interplay and Lachie Munro scooted over in injury time - compounding the torment for a Hawke's Bay side that had dominated the third period without having the ability to benefit from their field position and glut of possession.

Hawke's Bay started earnestly on the return from the sanctuary of the dressing shed but frustratingly turned over the ball each time they looked threatening, leaving Matt Berquist's 27th minute penalty as their only reward.

Although Auckland's expansive attacking prowess was understandably blunted by the conditions, coach Pat Lam would take heart from his side's ability to soak up pressure for a 20-minute stint without ever looking in serious danger.

Hawke's Bay were also hampered by some late changes.

The loose trio required tinkering after Karl Lowe's withdrawal saw captain Michael Johnson switch to the openside while George Naoupu started at No 6.

Yet regardless of those changes, the competition favourites were always in a dominant mood, displaying an accuracy that belied the monsoon-like conditions.

- NZPA