Southland's five-match winning streak in the ITM Cup came to an end in Whangarei on Saturday, thanks to a 33-22 defeat at the hands of Northland.
The hosts outscored the Stags four tries to three - Southland leaking three tries in the first 21 minutes. However, the visitors had fought back bravely from 20-3 down to trail just 20-15 at half-time.
It seemed a matter of time before they hit the front after Northland flanker Dan Pryor was sin-binned soon after the break due to his team's repeated infringing at the breakdown.
But despite their numerical inferiority, Northland's defence held firm before conjuring a 80m try to captain Jared Payne, when winger Rene Ranger busted the line and found his skipper accelerating on a perfect angle.
Southland bounced straight back through Jamie Mackintosh's second try but the Northlanders found a second wind in the closing stages through two penalties from full-back Lachie Munro, who missed his first two shots before slotting his next five in a 13-point haul.
Southland's dominant scrum and effective pick-and-go began to dominate the match, forcing the hosts into conceding multiple penalties, but it didn't prove enough for a side who defend the Ranfurly Shield against North Harbour in Invercargill next weekend.
Tries: Ranger, Pryor, Payne, 2
Cons: Munro 3
Pens: Munro 2
Tries: King, Mackintosh 2
Cons: Robinson 2
Southland: Glen Horton, Tony Koonwaiyou, Kendrick Lynn, Matt Saunders, James Paterson, Robbie Robinson, Scott Cowan, Kane Thompson, Tim Boys, Dion Bates, Joe Tuineau, Josh Bekhuis, Chris King, Brayden Mitchell, Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: Jason Rutledge, Micheal Peterson, Elliot Dixon, Sonny Rangitoheriri, Seminar Manu, Mark Wells.
Northland: Lachie Munro, Rene Ranger, Jared Payne, Aaron Bancroft, Iwi Hauraki, David Holwell, Rhyan Caine, Cameron Eyre, Dan Pryor, Dean Budd, Mark Burman, Pat O'Connor, Bronson Murray, Tim Dow, Matt Wallis.
Replacements: Mikaele Tuu'u, Ross Wright, Roy Griffin, Cam Coodhue, Luke Hamilton, Aden Dewes, Mateo Malupo.
Referee: Matthew Stanish