The runaway leaders of the Mitre 10 Cup Championship racked up another win - but not before being pushed all the way to their limit.
Otago this afternoon made it a perfect four-from-four on the season, pipping the luckless Bay of Plenty by a point at Tauranga Domain.
It was a fixture that initially appeared a mismatch. Otago have thrilled in the early weeks of the campaign, proving a little leaky in defence but possessing more than enough firepower to account for any deficiencies, while Bay of Plenty were without a win in their opening two games.
But the Steamers were competitive in both of those earlier defeats and both came against Premiership opposition, whereas Otago had been feasting entirely on second-tier teams.
And the gap between the two teams eventually proved as fine as the final score, with Otago thankful to escape with five points from a match that flowed freely in the first half before becoming a battle of attrition as the stakes were raised in the second spell.
Otago took only four minutes to display the running rugby that has lifted them to the top of the ladder, with Michael Collins finishing off an expansive move that began with a lineout inside their own half. But the Bay were unbowed by falling into an early deficit, with young centre Lalakai Foketi soon hitting back with a quick-fire double.
The home side proceeded to exert their control over the remainder of the first half but made too many errors to earn what could have been a defining advantage. They instead headed to halftime ahead by five and, after both sides grabbed three tries in the first 40 minutes, the game became a grind after the break.
The two teams traded shots at goal as they sought to create a match-winning lead before Lee Allan's try midway through the break saw Otago open a slight edge. Foketi soon completed his hat-trick to put the Bay back ahead with 15 minutes to play, but there was still time for the home fans to suffer heartbreak as Fletcher Smith's routine penalty left Otago in control of the division.
Bay of Plenty were left to console themselves with a couple of bonus points, still left stuck in a three-team quagmire of winless teams rooted to the bottom of the standings.
Bay of Plenty 32 (L. Foketi 3, S. Fisiihoi tries; K. Haimona 3 cons, 2 pens)
Otago 33 (M. Collins, M. Scott, N. Dawai, L. Allan tries, S. Eade 2 cons, dg, F. Smith 2 pens)