Canterbury hand-picked Otago to come to Christchurch for a cross-over fixture but the hosts nearly regretted their preseason selection after struggling to remain unbeaten in the ITM Cup.
The defending champions survived a scare to triumph 32-22 and move above Auckland in second spot, setting up a top-of-the-table clash in Wellington next weekend.
Otago were looking to bounce back after their cessation of the Ranfurly Shield against Hawkes Bay was followed by a demoralising defeat to Tasman, and they plundered the Canterbury lineout to ensure the competition's second-best attack never hit full stride.
But the home side were at their clinical best when they did manage to find themselves in profitable positions, with a bonus-point victory making it 12 straight wins dating back to last season.
The two sides were poles apart on paper and Canterbury's slew of All Blacks, former and current, threatened to make light work of the southern side in the early stages.
Canterbury opened the scoring towards the end of a dominant opening 10 minutes, with Milford Keresoma unlocking Otago down the left before passing inside for Adam Whitelock to complete a brilliant 60-metre move.
But Otago refused to wilt and hit straight back through Fa'asiu Fuatai, who ran onto an accurate kick to the corner from Peter Breen and expertly nudged it on twice to dot down.
The try halted Canterbury's early charge and Hayden Parker added a couple of penalties midway through the half as Otago attempted to accumulate as many points as possible before Canterbury kicked back into gear.
That looked increasingly likely as the half progressed, and the hosts hit the front with a well-worked move just before the break. Ryan Crotty, appearing a class above at this level, scythed through the Otago defence before Adam Whitelock slipped a ball for Tom Taylor to spin inside a tackle and over the line.
The hosts' 15-13 halftime advantage was added to early in the second half, with George Whitelock making sure his decision to kick for the corner was the right one when he finished off a rolling maul.
While Canterbury looked relatively comfortable in defence, another two penalties from Parker pulled his side within three. But, just when Parker's boot looked like it could cause a boil-over, substitute Paea Fa'anunu barged his way over for a match-sealing try.
Canterbury 32 (M.Keresoma T.Taylor, G.Whitelock, P.Fa'anunu tries; T.Taylor 3 cons, 2 pens)
Otago 22 (F.Fuatai try; H.Parker con, 5 pens)