Southland are winless after two preseason games but will at least head into Friday night's first competition game against Bay of Plenty in Invercargill with much more confidence in their defence.
Southland were embarrassed last Saturday by Heartland Championship team Mid Canterbury, losing 40-38.
The big question mark surrounded the 40 points they leaked in Oamaru, but yesterday against Otago in Alexandra saw a much better showing in defence, despite losing 12-8.
The Stags kept Otago tryless throughout the 80 minutes, which was partly to do with a lack of polish from Otago on attack, but most importantly a lift in the effort stakes by Southland.
Southland coach Brad Mooar was a much happier man soon after yesterday's game at Molyneux Park than when he had to digest the loss to Mid Canterbury on Saturday.
''It was a much better effort today. It was a different side,'' Mooar said.
''It was a different looking team in terms of attitude and endeavour. It was a big step forward and you would expect so.''
It was game which won't go into the archives as one of the classic Southland-Otago matchups.
Both teams struggled to finish chances they created and lacked excitement in attack in ideal underfoot conditions in Alexandra.
However the game served its purpose.
Both teams were able to introduce their Super Rugby players back into the fold and most players in each squad got a good amount of game time.
Southland had named the majority of their frontline players on the bench but in fact they started in yesterday's game.
New recruit Lima Sopoaga had the chance to score his first points for Southland inside two minutes of his debut game but pushed a 40m penalty wide.
A matter of a couple of minutes his Highlanders team mate Hayden Parker had a chance of his own from 30m out when Southland was penalised for not releasing. Parker made no mistake to make it 3-nil to Otago.
After 10 minutes Sopoaga had his second attempt, this time from handy range and levelled it up at 3-all.
Otago made much of the play for the remainder of the first half but could not capitalise as Southland kept their line in tact to ensure the score remained at 3-all at the break.
Both teams made plenty of changes in the second half and the game did start to open up a little bit, but it didn't translate in a feast of points.
Parker kicked a penalty seven minutes into the second half to extend the lead to 6-3 and then in the 58th minute replacement first five-eighth Peter Breen kicked Otago's third penalty to make it 9-3.
It looked a game destined for a dull try less fixture until Southland's Fiji flyer Lolohea Loco gave the fixture a much needed spark with 20 minutes to go.
From turnover ball it ended up in the hands of the replacement winger who gave a glimpse of his pace to scoot in from close to half way to score.
Jamie Verran missed the conversion attempt from wide out which would have pushed Southland to a 10-9 lead.
With seven minutes to play Breen kicked Otago's fourth penalty of the afternoon to make it 12-8, which was the final score.
Tim Boys was probably Southland's best leading the way in the defence stakes, which is nothing unusual from the hardworking flanker.
Otago 12 (Hayden Parker 2 pen, Peter Breen 2 pen), Southland 8 (Lolohea Loco try, Lima Sopoaga try). HT: 3-all.
- The Southland Times
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