Alex Mafi pounced for two second-half tries as the 14-man Reds snatched a dramatic 23-21 win over the Rebels in Super Rugby AU.

The hooker scored either side of team-mate Feao Fotuaika being sent off, while captain James O'Connor added the extras to both tries and booted three penalties.

Mafi's second try came in the 77th minute, but there was still almost a late twist when the Rebels were handed a last-gasp penalty, only for Matt Toomua to steer his kick left of the posts.

Toomua booted four first-half penalties to two from O'Connor as the Rebels took a 12-6 lead into the break, both fly-halves also missing a kick at goal.

Toomua kicked the Rebels further ahead at the start of the second half, but the Reds responded as Mafi ducked in to find a way to the line from the back of a driving maul.

O'Connor's conversion made it a two-point game, although Reece Hodge then kicked a penalty to give the Rebels more breathing space.

Fotuaika was sent off in the 57th minute for cleaning out Richard Hardwick with direct contact to the head.

O'Connor and Toomua traded penalties before former Melbourne Storm star Suliasi Vunivalu looked to have made a sensational entrance on his union debut for the Reds, the code-switching Fijian sprinting to chase what looked a lost cause.

He wanted a try, but video replays showed Joe Powell had nudged the ball dead before Vunivalu reached it.

Mafi, though, would not be denied. He sold a dummy and sliced through a group of white shirts to dive over and level the game.

O'Connor put the 14 men in front by adding the extras, before the Rebels had their one last shot at goal, Toomua off target from long range.

The Crusaders made a winning start to their Super Rugby Aotearoa title defence, holding off the Highlanders to triumph 26-13 on Friday. 

All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor scored the opening try of the 2021 season as Crusaders crossed four times in total at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, though they were made to work hard for victory.

After Taylor touched down in the 13th minute, Bryn Hall followed suit soon after as the reigning champions quickly eased into a 14-0 lead, Richie Mo'unga landing both conversion attempts. 

However, Highlanders hit back to close the gap to four at the break. Shannon Frizell got their first points with a try, while Connor Garden-Bachop finished off a flowing move just before half-time. 

Mitch Hunt was on target with a penalty in the 43rd minute to reduce the deficit to just a solitary point, yet the home team were unable to edge ahead as Crusaders shut them out for the remainder of the contest. 

Sevu Reece crucially crashed over to make it 19-13, while replacement hooker Brodie McAlister sealed victory from a lineout drive with six minutes remaining. 

Mo'unga slotted over his third conversion as Crusaders were able to celebrate a successful start to their campaign, even though they finished with 14 men following a late yellow card for Scott Barrett. 

A trans-Tasman tournament has been agreed for 2021 featuring all 10 Super Rugby teams.

Rugby Australia (RA) and New Zealand Rugby (NZR) have agreed a new event that will contain 26 games over a packed six-week period.

All Blacks captain Sam Cane said the development was "awesome" and what all the players wanted.

The event will follow the two nations' domestic Super Rugby competitions, running from May 14 until a final on June 19.

All teams from Australia and New Zealand will play two home matches and two away games, while a Super Round will be held at a location that is yet to be confirmed, where every match will be played at the same venue over one weekend.

After five rounds, when teams from each nation have faced every outfit from the other, the top two teams in the table will meet in the final, which will be hosted by the side sitting first.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said: "Super Rugby Trans-Tasman is a great result for fans on both sides of the Tasman and is testament to the strength of the relationship between New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia.

"It has been a testing time for rugby in both countries, but also a chance to reimagine the game in our part of the world for 2021. The result is an exciting and innovative new competition, which will benefit fans, players, broadcasters and Super clubs."

Rugby Australia interim chief executive Rob Clarke added: "This is a truly historic day for rugby in the Southern Hemisphere, with the first ever Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby competition.

"This will generate enormous excitement across both countries with some of the best players in the world set to challenge each other after the conclusion of Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa."

World champions South Africa are set to remain in the Rugby Championship until at least 2030 despite the suggestion they could join the Six Nations. 

Speculation around the future of the Springboks in the international tournament has increased in recent months. 

Holders South Africa withdrew from this year's Rugby Championship amid complications linked to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving Australia, New Zealand and Argentina to play a three-team tournament. 

This followed South Africa's vote to withdraw domestic clubs from Super Rugby and begin talks over a move to Europe's Pro14. 

But SANZAAR, which organises both the Rugby Championship and Super Rugby, said on Wednesday all four of its nations - including South Africa - had "committed to an international rugby future through to 2030". 

The Rugby Championship will change from a six-match to 12-match structure, allowing all four teams to play each other home and away through the new mini-tour match schedule.

The move would appear to end any imminent Springboks move to link up with England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, France and Italy. 

SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux said: "We welcome the changes announced to the Rugby Championship with our SANZAAR partners and we are looking forward to seeing what the new strategic plan for the competition entails, with possible international expansion on the cards. 

"Although we had to change our domestic focus, we still have a long history with the All Blacks and Wallabies as well as a long-standing friendship with the Pumas and we look forward to more world class Test rugby. 

"Ever since the Tri-Nations was first contested in 1996, and more recently the Rugby Championship from 2012, a team from the Southern Hemisphere has won the Rugby World Cup five out of six times - which is testimony to the high quality of Test rugby played on this side of the equator."

The Brumbies were crowned Super Rugby AU champions as young playmaker Noah Lolesio sparkled in their 28-23 win over the Reds.

It ended a 16-year wait for a title for the Brumbies, who were good value for Saturday's win against opponents who too often let their discipline go awry.

Among many fine performances, it was 20-year-old fly-half Lolesio who caught the eye at the GIO Stadium, as he bent the contest to his will on a first outing since suffering a torn hamstring two months ago.

The man of the match got the first chunk of his 13-point haul as he and James O'Connor exchanged early penalties before Folau Fainga'a was the beneficiary of a furious 17th-minute drive to put the Brumbies in front.

Andy Muirhead finished smartly for their second score after Lolesio drew four defenders but an even better try followed for the Reds – Jordan Petaia embarking upon a dazzling run through the midfield before a deft backhanded pass allowed number eight Harry Wilson to touch down.

O'Connor's penalty to close the first half meant the deficit was trimmed to 15-13 at the interval but the Reds' haphazard start to the second period proved decisive.

Tom Banks darted through the defensive line as the Brumbies switched play from right to left for their third try, with Lolesio adding the extras before confidently thumping home a drop goal.

Filipo Daugunu was then sent to the sin bin for a dangerous tackle and, although Angus Blyth scrambled to touch down a loose ball in the 64th minute, the Brumbies were able to hold on.

It might have been a different story had O'Connor, who also kicked 13 points, not lacked his usual poise when he dropped a straightforward pass in front of the posts four minutes from time.

The Reds booked a Super Rugby AU final against the Brumbies with a confident 25-13 victory over the Rebels at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.

Brad Thorn kept them same XV that started the Reds' impressive 26-7 win against the table-topping Brumbies last weekend and they came out on top against the Rebels, who only reached the qualifying final thanks to a last-gasp try against the Western Force.

Jordan Petaia got the Reds off and running in the ninth minute when he intercepted a pass from Matt Toomua and sprinted 60 metres to touch down.

Toomua and James O'Connor traded penalties before Petaia went off due to a head knock, and, after he was joined on the sidelines by Chris Feauai-Sautia, Marika Koroibete helped restore parity with a fine score before half-time.

O'Connor converted a try for Lukhan Salakaia-Loto between the Rebels being hurt by Australia internationals Dane Haylett-Petty and Toomua being forced to leave the pitch with injuries.

Reece Hodge took over kicking duties for the visitors and split the posts with a penalty but O'Connor restored the Reds' seven-point cushion.

The Rebels also lost Wallaby hooker Jordan Uelese to an arm problem and Filipo Daugunu finished the job for the Reds in the 75th minute.

The Rebels secured a place in the Super Rugby AU finals after a thrilling 34-30 win over the Force on Saturday.

Needing a win by four or more points in Newcastle, the Rebels left it late to reach the qualifying final, where the Reds await.

The winless Force almost held off the Rebels, but Cabous Eloff scored the decisive try in the 79th minute before Matt Toomua converted at McDonald Jones Stadium.

It marks the first time the Rebels have reached the finals in Super Rugby.

The Rebels threatened to put the Force away during the first half.

Tom Pincus and Reece Hodge scored tries after charge-downs, either side of the Force responding through Henry Taefu.

Hodge's try – following a fine pass from Cameron Orr – came after two Toomua penalties as the Rebels took a 20-8 lead.

However, Andrew Ready crashed over either side of half-time for the Force to bring them level.

The Force scored 22 unanswered points, making the most of a man advantage as Brynard Stander went over after Pincus' yellow card.

Dane Haylett-Petty ended that run after a break from Marika Koroibete, before the Force's Byron Ralston was yellow-carded for taking Matt Philip out in the air.

Trailing 30-27, the Rebels needed a converted try in the final 20 minutes to advance to the finals.

Koroibete had a try ruled out for a forward pass in the 73rd minute before the Rebels' chances were boosted when Fergus Lee-Warner was shown a yellow.

The Force defended desperately late, but the Rebels finally broke through, Eloff going over before Toomua converted from right in front of the posts to seal a memorable win.

Head coach Aaron Mauger has left the Highlanders after three years with the Super Rugby franchise.

Mauger replaced Tony Brown in the top job at the Dunedin-based side in August 2017, but his tenure has come to an end after his contract was not renewed.

The 39-year-old departs on the back of a disappointing Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign in which the Highlanders won just three matches.

Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said: "Aaron has focused on improving and developing players and, in that regard, he can be very proud of his efforts and we thank him for everything he has done for the club.

"As a young coach with a long career ahead, we wish him and his family all the best for the next chapter of his coaching career."

Mauger said that he can have no complaints over the decision.

"Results are key to proving the quality of the structures you have put in place as a head coach," he said. "As our on-field results during my tenure haven't been at the level we've all aspired to, it’s the head coach who must take responsibility for that."

Clark added the Highlanders are in no rush to name Mauger's successor.

"We have a little bit of time before we need to make a final decision on our coaching structure for 2021. We are fortunate we have quality coaches in Tony Brown, Clarke Dermody and Riki Flutey still contracted," he said.

"Over the next short period we will be reviewing our coaching structure and who and how many we add to our current group will depend on availability and our desire to get the balance of our coaching group right."

The Rebels fell to a dramatic 38-32 defeat to the Waratahs but Matt Toomua's late penalty significantly enhanced their Super Rugby AU finals hopes.

Toomua split the posts from an acute angle in the 77th minute to secure losing bonus point, meaning the Rebels will reach the knockout stage at the expense of the Waratahs if they overcome winless Western Force by four points or more next weekend.

Jake Gordon put the Waratahs – who, with a bye in the final round, needed a bonus-point win and to deny the Rebels one seal third place – ahead and they had a 17-10 lead at half-time, with Toomua converting his own try to reduce the deficit after Jack Dempsey went over.

Harry Johnson-Holmes' score and Australia captain Michael Hooper teeing up Joey Walton put the Waratahs in control after a frantic start to the second half.

Marika Koroibete and Isi Naisarani touched down as the Rebels began to fight back – the latter going over for the second time in the game while Matt Philip was in the sin bin for repeated infringements.

The Waratahs move nine points clear, though, when Will Harrison forced his way over after charging down Andrew Deegan's kick in the 74th minute and added the extras.

However, Toomua's late penalty ensured the Rebels did not leave empty handed and have their future in their own hands with one game remaining.

The Brumbies will have home advantage in the Super Rugby AU final next month after sealing top spot with a 31-14 defeat of Western Force on Friday.

Dan McKellar's side will finish the regular season at the summit a week on Saturday following a victory over the bottom side at GIO Stadium.

Fergus Lee-Warner's try, converted by Ian Prior, gave the Force a surprise early lead but the Brumbies held a 10-7 half-time advantage courtesy of five-pointers from Tom Wright and Thomas Banks

The leaders also had two tries disallowed in as many minutes in the first half, but Will Miller was not to be denied when he crossed 11 minutes into the second half as the Force came under immense pressure.

Jono Lance touched down at the other end, with Prior successfully converting again to reduce the deficit to three points, but academy graduate Len Ikitau's first try for the Brumbies and Andy Muirhead's late effort finished the Force off.

Bayley Kuenzle was on target three times from the tee in a sixth win out of seven for the Brumbies.

McKellar might opt to ring the changes against the Reds next week ahead of a showdown for the title on September 19, while the Force remain winless.

The Reds moved to the top of the Super Rugby AU table thanks to a 57-5 thrashing of the winless Western Force on Friday.

James O'Connor scored a try and kicked 17 points in an influential performance from fly-half, while Filipo Daugunu and Tate McDermott both touched down twice in the rout.

The rampant Reds scored eight tries in total to record their biggest victory over the struggling Force, surpassing the 50-10 triumph they managed during the 2010 season.

Daugunu crossed twice in the opening half but the Reds cut loose after the break, producing a points spree after Andrew Ready finally got their opponents on the scoreboard with a 43rd-minute try.

Fraser McReight's 55th-minute score was quickly followed by McDermott's brace, with O'Connor, Bryce Hegarty and Tuaina Tualima piling on the misery in the closing stages of the one-sided contest.

The emphatic bonus-point victory moves Brad Thorn's side above the Brumbies in the standings. The two teams will meet in the final round of fixtures.

South Africa hooker Malcolm Marx is returning to Japan to join Top League side Kubota Spears. 

The Rugby World Cup winner took the opportunity to opt out of his contract with Super Rugby side the Lions in May after players were given the option as part of cost-cutting measures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Marx became a free agent and has decided to continue his career in the country where he lifted the Webb Ellis Cup last year.

The 26-year-old had a spell with the Shining Arcs in Japan last season after taking a six-month sabbatical following the Springboks' World Cup triumph.

Marx joins a Funabashi-based franchise coached by his compatriot Frans Ludeke.

The uncompromising Marx, who has 33 caps to his name, had to settle for a place on the bench for the World Cup final as Bongi Mbonambi got the nod to start against England.

The Reds moved into second in the Super Rugby AU standings with a 19-3 victory over the in-form Rebels in Brisbane.

A Matt Toomua penalty put the visitors ahead after a spell of early dominance on Saturday, but the Queenslanders responded in style to move to within two points of the Brumbies at the top of the table.

Jordan Petaia, back in the side after missing last weekend's defeat to the Waratahs due to the loss of his father, marked his return with the first try of the match before Brandon Paenga-Amosa crossed and James O'Connor converted to make it 14-3.

The Rebels, who had been on a three-game winning run, struggled to break down a resilient home rearguard in the second half and Isi Naisarani was penalised for a knock-on when it looked as though they would reduce the deficit.

Jock Campbell secured the bonus-point win six minutes from time, racing clear after being released by O'Connor, as the Rebels slipped to fourth in the five-team ladder.

A strong second half helped the Highlanders beat the Hurricanes 38-21 in the final game of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season.

A change to coronavirus restrictions in New Zealand forced Sunday's clash between the Blues and champions Crusaders to be cancelled, however, the Highlanders' meeting with the Hurricanes went ahead behind closed doors on Saturday.

Two tries apiece saw the Highlanders and Hurricanes – who had three tries disallowed – level 14-14 at half-time without a crowd in Dunedin.

Vince Aso and Jamie Booth crossed over for the Hurricanes, while Ngane Punivai and Highlanders co-captain Ash Dixon responded prior to the interval.

A Josh Ioane penalty and Michael Collins' try gave the Highlanders a 10-point lead early in the second half, before they were awarded a penalty try as Hurricanes loose forward Ardie Savea received a yellow card for a professional foul.

The Highlanders made the most of their numerical advantage after Mitch Hunt sprinted away to cross over, while Peter Umaga-Jensen claimed a consolation try for the Hurricanes with seven minutes remaining.

With the loss, the Hurricanes saw their five-game winning streak ended as they missed the chance to leapfrog the Blues into second place in the standings, while the Highlanders finished fourth in the five-team competition.

The Western Force's wait for a first Super Rugby AU victory goes on after they were beaten 28-8 by the Waratahs on Friday.

Michael Hooper celebrated his 150th Super Rugby game with a victory at Cbus Super Stadium, as the Waratahs outscored the bottom-of-the-table Force by three tries to one.

The Force led twice in the first half courtesy of a Brynard Stander try and a penalty from Ian Prior, but Alex Newsome's try and 11 points from the boot of Will Harrison gave the Waratahs a 16-8 advantage at the break.

There was no way back for the Force after the interval, Jack Maddocks' intercept try giving Rob Penney's side breathing space and Harry Johnson-Holmes crashing over in the closing stages on the Gold Coast.

The Waratahs, who welcomed Rob Simmons back from injury, are up to second after securing back-to-back Super Rugby victories for the first time since March 2019.

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