Auckland's golden season continues – they will host Canterbury in next Saturday's Mitre 10 Cup final thanks to a controlled but at times inspired victory over Wellington.
For the inspiration part at a hot and still Eden Park this afternoon, look no further than No 8 Akira Ioane. Unwanted by the All Blacks selectors for the 51-player squad for Japan and Europe, Ioane has been selected by the New Zealand Māori but it's clear he wanted to make a point or two and he did it by scoring two tries and being a menace every time he got the ball.
His power close to the line and off the back of the scrum was such that he was virtually unstoppable. He was disciplined too – there was none of the silly stuff from him that sometimes takes the shine off his performances. Instead, he was fully committed – in the right way – and a key man as Auckland seek their first national provincial title since 2007.
They will host a Canterbury team who will arrive full of confidence due in part to their incredible run of recent success in this competition but also the way the finished over the top of Tasman in Nelson last night.
Canterbury have won the title 10 times in the last 11 years but should be thoroughly tested at Eden Park by an Auckland team playing with tempo and composure. In Melani Nanai, TJ Faiane and Salesi Rayasi they have firepower to burn in the backline but so have the Blues over the past couple of years and they haven't been able to achieve too much.
In this respect new coaches Alama Ieremia and Graham Henry have done a remarkable job to get the team this far in their first season together.
Key decision makers, halfback Jonathan Ruru and first-five Harry Plummer, were a step ahead of their opposites and the Auckland pack had an edge in the set piece. The blue and whites did at the breakdown too but more often than not it was Nanai or Plummer putting their heads in dangerous places to achieve the turnover.
About the best things for Wellington to celebrate were the way Wes Goosen streaked away to score a converted try after four minutes to give the visitors the lead, and the fact All Blacks hooker Dane Coles came through, hopefully unscathed, after entering the game off the reserves bench straight after halftime.
Coles couldn't spark a comeback, though. Wellington were too wasteful with the ball and nowhere near as composed overall as Auckland, the competition pace-setters who on this evidence will start the final as favourites against the old enemy from the south.
Skipper Faiane said: "We had to front up in the forwards and finish our chances in the backs; I'm proud of how we played today but we've got one more job.
"We all know what Canterbury bring; they're a smart team and a clinical team."
Meanwhile, Otago snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in their Championship semifinal against Hawke's Bay.
Razorbacks first-five Josh Ioane slotted over a penalty in the 83rd minute to give Otago a 20-19 win.
Otago will now face Waikato for a spot in the Premiership, after the Mooloos beat Northland 48-26 earlier in the day.
Auckland 38 (Akira Ioane 2, Melani Nanai, Fa'atiga Lemalu, Marco Fepulea'I tries; Harry Plummer 4 cons, pen)
Wellngton 17 (Wes Goosen, Teariki Ben-Nicholas try; Jackson Garden-Bachop 2 cons, pen)