A final quarter, 29-point burst ensured Canterbury avoided embarrassment by beating Counties Manukau 38-23 at AMI Stadium this afternoon.
This was a classic example of an inflated scoreline flattering the winners but Canterbury will not be griping when they look at the national provincial championship log.
The win earned them five valuable competition points and they now sit second on 35 points, behind Wellington (42), with one round remaining.
Although Canterbury eventually cruised home all the post-match talk was about the spirited performance from a seriously under-powered Counties Manukau side in the first 60 minutes.
Counties Manukau had no right to even think about winning this encounter.
History was against them - they hadn't beaten Canterbury since 1998 - and with coach Tana Umaga resting the majority of his team ahead of Friday night's Ranfurly Shield defence against Southland, the Steelers looked ripe for a mauling.
How wrong such predictions were.
Anyone offering pre-match odds of Counties Manukau scoring the only try of the first spell would have either been swamped by a money-hungry mob willing to relieve him of his cash or consigned to the loony bin.
But that was the reality; Counties Manukau second five-eighth Tyrone Lefau grabbed the five-pointer in the 27th minute after his team-mates swept down the right flank and angled back infield against a lacklustre Canterbury side.
The only contribution from Canterbury, who trailed 13-9 at halftime, was to be three penalties from first-five Tyler Bleyendaal.
So what was up with Canterbury?
How could this team, who were stacked with Super Rugby players and the odd All Black in Corey Flynn, Andy Ellis and George Whitelock, be so passive in defence and without fire on attack?
That was the question - barring a handful of vocal Counties Manukau supporters - the majority of the 7500-strong crowd were asking themselves at the break.
Even the Canterbury players seemed stunned as they made simple errors such as holding the ball in the tackle too long, flipping awkward passes and missing simple tackles.
Counties Manukau, who operated a clever defensive strategy of swamping their opponents by pushing up hard at the Canterbury backline, deserve a mountain of credit for this effort.
They ran hard at the line on attack and that was never better epitomised when flanker Sean Reidy swept through an ineffectual tackle by Canterbury tighthead prop Nepo Laulala to score in the corner early in the second half.
The successful conversion from first-five Ki Anufe pushed Counties Manukau out to a 23-9 lead with 28 minutes left.
And then, finally, Canterbury took their heads off their pillows.
The fightback began with the Cantabs stitching some phases together and although right wing Patrick Osborne, who until this point had - like all of Canterbury's other strike players - been far too quiet, finally produced the goods.
Although he was held up over the line in his initial surge, he made no mistake when Canterbury were awarded a 5m scrum and he sprinted onto the pass from Bleyendaal.
That sparked a resurgence which resulted in tries to replacement No 8 Nasi Manu and blindside flanker Luke Whitelock (two) and Bleyendaal and Richie Mo'unga added the extras with the boot.
Counties Manukau secured a moral victory - of sorts - and Canterbury remain on target for a home semi they can grab maximum points against North Harbour next weekend.
- © Fairfax NZ News