The Stags will be in no danger of complacency heading into their season opener against Tasman next Saturday after a 47-28 loss to Otago in Gore yesterday.
The Stags were outplayed for long patches of both halves, trailed 23-7 at halftime and let in six tries against their fellow NPC championship opponents.
Stags coach David Henderson said there would be plenty to take from the video review of the game.
"We had our moments, but we learnt a lot today, too, particularly back on the blindside. They were hitting the middle and then coming back and we were getting exposed down the blindside," Henderson said.
"It's a big learning curve and sometimes you can have a big game today and think you are rock stars; we've got a lot of work to do before next week, which is great."
Southland looked fine at the set piece but laboured in most other areas.
After a poor start where they were forced to live inside their own half and conceded two early penalties to Highlanders first five-eighth Hayden Parker, the Stags took too long to get going.
Their reply was one of the few bright points of a grey afternoon, with Warrick Lynn slicing through the Otago defence and throwing one of the few well-timed passes of the game to send Elliot Dixon flying into the corner.
Southland's 7-6 lead was completely against the run of play, and shortlived.
Soon after, Stags flanker Hale T-Pole and Otago prop Scott Manson were both sinbinned following a fight.
Otago midfielders Michael Collins and Peter Breen scored the first of their two tries before halftime.
Things got worse in the second half as the Stags slumped to a 42-14 deficit in front of a big Eastern Southland crowd at the showgrounds.
Thankfully, the bench offered some respite, with replacements Naulia Dawai and Cardiff Vaega scoring second-half tries, which gave the Stags some respectability.
"It's one of those things. The intensity from last week to this week [against North Otago] was huge, but we didn't play any rugby for the first 25 minutes," Henderson said. "We made a lot of mistakes, they had all the territory. Even in the second half we were making stupid mistakes and we got punished for that."
The areas the Stags needed to work on were relatively clear, Henderson said.
"We've had another heavy training week, this week. The boys didn't look quite on their game, they didn't have the right numbers at the breakdown area and we were getting punished there," he said.
"That slows everything down, and it always looked, when we went wide, like they had numbers there."
Otago 47 (Michael Collins 2, Peter Breen 2, Buxton Popoali'i, Tom Franklin tries; Hayden Parker 3 pen, 4 con) Southland 28 (Elliot Dixon, Josh Bekhuis, Naulia Dawai, Cardiff Vaega tries; Scott Eade 4 con) HT: 23-7
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