Southland showed heart to repulse a stirring challenge from North Harbour and retain New Zealand's most prized trophy, the Ranfurly Shield.
Southland retained the Log 'o Wood with a last minute try to win 25-23 in a game that doubled as a national provincial championship match at Rugby Park in Invercargill on Saturday.
North Harbour's tattered reputation and woeful record over the past couple of seasons looked likely to get the shot in the arm it so desperately needed.
Harbour entered the match with just one win and five losses this season, coming off the back of a poor 2010.
But heartache was dished up in the most toxic form as Southland snatched the last-minute win.
The pain was so severe for the visiting coaches Liam Barry and Jeff Wilson that they couldn't bring themselves to talk to the media after the game.
North Harbour led 20-7 at the break and held an eight-point buffer with 10 minutes to go.
Then it all went wrong for them. They gave away a penalty and, from close range, Stags flyhalf James Wilson nudged it over to bring the margin to within five points.
Then with time almost up, Stags replacement hooker Jason Rutledge had a surge at the line and while he thought he had grounded the ball against the padding off the upright play continued.
Then it was Scott Cowan's turn to have his surge and he planted the ball over as referee Chris Pollock's arm went up to award the try to make it 23-all. Wilson added the conversion to snatch the honours away.
For Harbour, the record now extends to six losses and one win, and the hurt continues for the union.
* In another NPC match on Saturday Hawke's Bay claimed their second Premiership scalp beating Bay of Plenty 32-13 in a bonus-point victory at Rotorua International Stadium.
After beating Wellington 40-20 in their first cross-over match, they added their second side to that list with a classy display that was built on their side's suffocating defensive effort.
The Magpies had extra quality in the form of their three international players, halfback Kahn Fotuali'i, wing Zac Guilford and fullback Israel Dagg.
The three players scored all their side's try with Guilford (2), Dagg, and Fotuali'i the names on the score sheet with the home team scoring a consolation try through Luke Braid.
Guilford and fullback Israel Dagg used the match as warm up to next week's Tri Nation's encounter against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth and Graham Henry and co would've been pleased with the pair's contribution.
The wing sparked a number of his side's attacking moves, proving difficult to put down when he had the ball in hand and went over the chalk for two tries.
His good friend Dagg was tidy in the backfield and made an immediate impact in his first-class return with a well-taken try.
All Saturday's scores and scorers:
Southland 25-23 North Harbour (RS)
Tries: Cornforth, Cowan 2
Cons: Wilson 2
Pens: Wilson 2
For North Harbour:
Tries: Parsons, Finau
Cons: Botica 2
Pens: Botica 3
Southland: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Matt Saunders, 11 Tim Cornforth, 10 James Wilson, 9 Scott Cowan, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 Tim Boys, 6 John Hardie, 5 Ben Nally, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Nick Barrett, 2 David Hall, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (captain).
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Chris King, 18 Michael Fatialofa, 19 Chamberlain or Dixon, 20 Sonny Rangitohereri, 21 Marty McKenzie, 22 Glen Horton, 23 Michael Peterson.
North Harbour: 15 Willie Walker, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Rudi Wulf, 12 Brendon Watt, 11 David Raikuna, 10 Ben Botica, 9 Chris Smylie (captain), 8 Mat Luamanu, 7 Solomon King, 6 Brent Wilson, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Irwin Finau, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 James Parsons, 1 James Afoa.
Replacements: 16 Michael Mayhew, 17 Alex Woonton, 18 Michael Farmer, 19 Sam Hayes-Stevenson, 20 Brenton Helleur, 21 Pita Ahki, 22 Ken Pisi, 23 Taione Vea.
Referee: Chris Pollock
Bay of Plenty 13-32 Hawke's Bay
For Bay of Plenty:
Pens: Waenga 2
For Hawke's Bay:
Tries: Guildford 2, Fotuali'i, Dagg
Cons: Horrell 2, Fotuali'i
Pens: Horrell 2
Bay of Plenty: 15 Toby Arnold, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Phil Burleigh, 12 Steve Kefu, 11 Jason Hona, 10 Daniel Waenga, 9 Jamie Nutbrown, 8 Colin Bourke (captain), 7 Luke Braid, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Culum Retallick, 4 Luke Andrews, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 John Pareanga, 1 Tristan Moran.
Replacements: 16 Daniel Perrin, 17 Pingi Tala'apitanga or Greg Pleasants-Tate, 18 Power or Leighton Price, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Josh Hall, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Lance MacDonald, 23 Bronson Murray.
Hawke's Bay: 15 Mark Jackman, 14 Gillies Kaka, 13 Tu Umaga-Marshall, 12 Andrew Horrell, 11 Richard Buckman, 10 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Mike Coman (captain), 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Trent Boswell-Wakefield, 5 Bryn Evans, 4 Kane Thompson, 3 Anthony Perenise, 2 Hikawera Elliot, 1 Hikairo Forbes.
Replacements: 16 Logovi'i Mulipola, 17 Kas Lealamanua, 18 Brodie Retallick, 19 Adam Bradey, 20 Isaac Paewai, 21 Tua Saseve, 22 Israel Dagg, 23 Ben Tameifuna.
Referee: Nick Briant
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