Southland survived a spirited challenge from Counties-Manukau 13-9 to retain the Ranfurly Shield in Invercargill on Saturday.
Counties threw everything at the Shield holders for the full 80 minutes, bashing the Southland line until the final whistle.
But Southland have learned how to grind out a tough win and a massive defensive effort means the Ranfurly Shield will stay in Invercargill for now. Jason Rutledge scored the only try of the game for the holders.
The score was 7-3 at half-time.
It was Southland's fourth successful defence of the Shield and the Stags are on top of the ITM Cup.
In other matches:
Wellington coach Jamie Joseph departed on a high with a 35-22 win over Otago in Dunedin on Saturday night.
Joseph is taking up the reins at the Highlanders for next year's Super 15 tournament.
In the first National Provincial Championship match on Saturday, Auckland ground out an 11-6 win over Bay of Plenty at a sodden Baypark Stadium in Mt Maunganui.
Neither team could maintain possession for long periods due to dreadful conditions, with an early try to Auckland winger Atieli Pakalani proving the difference.
First five-eighths Matt Berquist and Phil Burleigh traded two penalties each prior to halftime.
The second spell was a dour scoreless affair, with the hosts dominating much of the closing quarter but failing to break through the Auckland defence.