Counties Manukau 12
The Mitre 10 Cup Premiership has officially split itself into two factions.
After Wellington jumped to the top of the ladder with a 53-12 dismantling of Counties Manukau in Pukekohe on Saturday, four teams have separated themselves from the other three.
Wellington look set to be joined by Auckland, Canterbury and Tasman in the playoffs, while Counties Manukau will battle with Taranaki and North Harbour to stave off relegation.
Counties Manukau remain in fifth place on the ladder with 13 points to their name, but fell six points behind the next best, after an impressive kicking display from No 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop orchestrated a superb Wellington offensive showing.
However, despite a performance littered with poor handling, Counties Manukau probably should have been the side to open the scoring. Poor defensive coverage on a kick in behind the line served the opening try up on a silver platter for the hosts, but fullback Luteru Laulala couldn't hang on to the ball.
Eventually, after an even 15 minutes of play, it was Wellington who opened the scoring through Isaia Walker-Leawere, before they crossed three times more inside a 10 minute period before the hooter to lead 29-0 at halftime and have the bonus point already locked away.
The result was all but sealed just moments into the second half when Wellington loose forward Vaea Fifita crossed for his second try of the afternoon to increase the margin to 34 points. Counties Manukau managed to find their way across the stripe twice, but their tries were broken up by a storming effort from Wellington hooker Asafo Aumua, and a late double for replacement hooker James O'Reilly sealed a big win for the visitors.
Otago were also big winners, thrashing Southland 43-24 in Invercargill later in the afternoon.
It was a day for the Otago wingers, with Mitchell Scott scoring a hat-trick and Jona Nareki scoring a double to count for five of the side's seven tries in the match.
Leading 24-3 at half time, it was one-way traffic throughout the fixture, with Southland falling to their 16th straight loss.
Wellington 53 (Vaea Fifita 2, James O'Reilly 2, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Malo Tuitama, Billy Proctor, Asafo Aumua tries; Jackson Garden-Bachop 5 cons, pen)Counties Manukau 12 (Daniel Hyatt, Toni Pulu tries; Latiume Fosita con). HT: 29-0
Otago 43 (Mitchell Scott 3, Jona Nareki 2, Matt Faddes, Jonah Aoina tries; Josh Ioane 4 cons) Southland 24 (Morgan Mitchell, Isaac te Tamaki, Maanaki Selby-Rickit tries; James Wilson 3 cons, pen). HT: 24-3