The Crusaders suffered a surprise first defeat of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season as the Highlanders cruised to a 33-12 victory.

The defending champions did the double over the Highlanders in last season's competition, but the form book was turned on its head on Friday.

It was only a second win in five matches for the Highlanders, who defeated the league leaders through 18 points from the boot of Mitch Hunt.

Billy Harmon, Michael Collins, Connor Garden-Bachop crossed for the Highlanders, who are a point behind the second-placed Blues having played a game more.

Meanwhile, in Super Rugby AU, the Waratahs suffered their sixth straight defeat but came agonisingly close to a draw with the league-leading Brumbies in their first game since Rob Penney's sacking.

Interim coaches Jason Gilmore and Chris Whitaker saw plenty of fight from their winless side, who staged an admirable second-half fightback having trailed 24-10 at the break.

Will Harrison converted his own try to trim the gap to seven points with under a quarter of an hour to play.

The Brumbies saw Rory Scott sin-binned with six minutes left and, after Tom Cusack was sent off with the clock red, James Ramm went over following a scrum metres out from the line, offering Harrison the chance to clinch a share of the spoils.

But Harrison could not split the uprights with his conversion attempt as the Waratahs suffered a 24-22 loss and more misery in a dismal campaign.

The Reds thrashed Waratahs 46-14 to maintain their perfect start to the Super Rugby AU season and return to the top of the standings.

Substitute Alex Mafi's second-half hat-trick helped seal an emphatic victory for the leaders, who had not beaten the Waratahs in Sydney in eight years.

Will Harrison kicked three penalties for the hosts in the first half, but the Reds responded through tries from Tate McDermott, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Filipo Daugunu.

Taniela Tupou crossed over early in the second half to extend the Reds' lead and, while Will Harris touched down to give Waratahs a temporary reprieve, their opponents soon ran away with the game.

Mafi, brought on at the interval, scored the first of his three tries with a little over an hour played and added two more before full-time, either side of Hugh Sinclair and Zane Nonggorr being sin-binned for separate offences.

The Super Rugby Aotearoa clash between Chiefs and Blues earlier on Saturday was a lot tighter, with Damian McKenzie snatching a famous 15-12 win for the hosts in the final minute.

Akira Ioane found a way through 24 minutes in for the only score of the first half of what turned out to be a thrilling contest in Hamilton.

But the Chiefs, who had gone 11 matches without a Super Rugby win before beating Hurricanes last weekend, hit back through McKenzie's penalty and a Samisoni Taukei'aho try, the hooker grounding the ball in the midst of a maul of players.

That lead lasted just a few minutes, however, as Tom Robinson charged clear and dotted down for the Blues' second try, which Otere Black was unable to add to from the conversion.

And that would prove a costly miss as, with less than a minute to go, McKenzie rounded off a fine counter-attack and brushed himself down to add the extras for a memorable victory that lifts Chiefs up to third, now within two points of their opponents.

The Brumbies returned to the top of the Super Rugby Australia standings as they ran out 42-14 victors over Western Force.

The Reds inflicted the Brumbies' first defeat of the season last time out, but Dan McKellar's team bounced back in comprehensive fashion on Friday.

Taking advantage of Tevita Kuridrani's booking, Len Ikitau went over twice in six minutes to open the scoring at the GIO Stadium in Canberra.

Having already lost fly-half Jake McIntyre to injury, the Force were no match for their rampant hosts – Cadeyrn Neville and Andy Muirhead scoring before half-time.

Lachlan Lonergan got in on the act after Henry Taefu had put Western Force onto the scoresheet, with Ian Prior dotting down for the visitors before Muirhead helped himself to his second try late on.

The win takes the Brumbies above the Reds, who are two points behind the Canberra team, while Western Force sit fourth with just one win to their name.

Jordie Barrett was in sensational form as his record points haul in Super Rugby Aotearoa led to the Hurricanes beating the Highlanders 30-19.

The All Blacks full-back scored all of the Hurricanes points in Dunedin on Friday, getting his team off the mark in this season's competition following three straight defeats.

In front of a 13,000-strong crowd at Forsyth-Barr Stadium, Barrett scored three tries, converting all of them, and added a further nine points from penalties.

It is a record points tally for a player in a single game of Super Rugby Aotearoa, which was established last year in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tyrel Lomax's yellow card midway through the first half handed the Highlanders a chance to get back into the contest after Barrett put the visitors 10-0 up, with his first penalty a 50-metre effort, but although Tony Brown's team scored through Bryn Evans, the Hurricanes' star man was on hand to restore the 10-point cushion before half-time.

Mitch Hunt's error was pounced on by the Hurricanes, with Barrett going over to seal his hat-trick.

Connor Garden-Bachop and Thomas Umaga-Jensen struck back for the Highlanders, though Barrett fittingly had the final say with a stoppage-time penalty.

Richie Mo'unga starred with 28 points as the Crusaders dominated the Blues 43-27 to remain unbeaten after four matches of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

The New Zealand fly-half scored a try and added 23 points with the boot as the dominant visitors made it 13 consecutive wins over the Blues dating back to 2014 at a packed-out Eden Park.

Jack Goodhue, Codie Taylor and Sevu Reece all dotted down for the Crusaders, with the Blues scoring four tries themselves in a match packed with All Black internationals – Kurt Eklund, Blake Gibson and Hoskins Sotutu all registering for the hosts.

It was Mo'unga's accuracy off the tee that proved the difference, though.

The number 10 nailed all four conversions and added five penalties as the Crusaders went nine points clear.

"It's great to win here at Eden Park," Crusaders captain Scott Barrett said. "The Blues played some great rugby and tested us up front, it was a real battle there.

"It was almost like a Test match and we had to turn pressure into points."

The Chiefs produced a sensational come-from-behind performance to claim a first Super Rugby win in over a year as they defeated the Hurricanes 35-29 at Sky Stadium on Saturday.

Trailing 26-7 at half-time after an action-packed opening 20 minutes, the Chiefs scored four second-half tries to claim a brilliant victory led by full-back Damian McKenzie.

It meant the Chiefs ended a run of 11 straight defeats against New Zealand franchises, while it was also their first triumph of any kind since overcoming the Waratahs on March 6 last year.

Coming into the game, both sides were winless in the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa season after two matches, and the Hurricanes scored four first-half tries to appear in total control.

However, the Chiefs responded with a second-half display that left the hosts shellshocked in Wellington, with Luke Jacobson crossing for the decisive try with five minutes to play.

The Hurricanes got the jump on the Chiefs in the 11th minute when Jordie Barrett broke and passed for Luke Campbell to cross on his starting debut, with Barrett making the conversion.

The visitors immediately responded with Kaleb Trask going under the posts two minutes later with McKenzie converting.

The action-packed opening 20 minutes continued with Ricky Riccitelli scoring out wide for the Hurricanes to make it 12-7.

The Hurricanes went further ahead when Ngani Laumape's wide kick found Salesi Rayasi who showed strength to get down for another try that Barrett converted.

Rayasi got his second shortly prior to half-time to give the Hurricanes a strong advantage at the interval.

McKenzie was denied a try early in the second half by the TMO before the Chiefs started their rally with Chase Tiatia's 56th-minute try.

Shortly after, McKenzie led a break and released Tiatia who combined with Samipeni Finau before scrum-half Brad Weber crossed.

The comeback continued in the 66th minute when Naitoa Ah Kuoi was pushed over the line. McKenzie added the extras to put the Chiefs ahead 28-26.

Barrett stopped the Chiefs' scoring run with a monster penalty goal to restore their lead at 29-28.

But the Chiefs touched down again with five minutes to play when Jacobson crashed over the line, before McKenzie again kicked accurately to seal a stunning win.

Matt Toomua contributed 18 points as the Rebels piled more misery on the winless Waratahs in a 33-14 victory at AAMI Park.

New South Wales are bottom of the pile in Super Rugby AU with just a single point, although they belatedly showed some fight on Friday.

All 14 visiting points came in the final five minutes, but a rare fast Melbourne start had long since taken the game away from the Waratahs, who have now equalled their worst Super Rugby run against Australian opposition with four straight defeats.

The Rebels had conceded just one first-half try in the 2021 competition, the fewest of any team, but also scored only one. By the break on Friday, they had crossed twice more.

Toomua kicked the first points from the tee after five minutes and the breakthrough try soon followed as Lachie Anderson crashed over from close range.

There were two more penalties from the boot of Toomua, before the fly-half ended the opening 40 minutes with a superb solo try, chasing his own kick to cross in the corner.

With Melbourne comfortable, their star performer was replaced after 51 minutes and Reece Hodge assumed kicking duties, adding a fourth penalty prior to Jordan Uelese touching down in what appeared a routine second half.

The result was never in doubt - a third Rebels win in four against the Waratahs - but NSW enjoyed some late cheer at least, twice picking apart their opponents for Jeremy Williams and Jack Maddocks to score in quick succession.

The Blues made it two wins from two games, scoring five tries in a 39-17 victory over the Highlanders in Super Rugby Aotearoa in Auckland on Sunday.

The hosts proved unstoppable at Eden Park, practically putting the game beyond reach by half-time with a 17-3 lead, before some late consolation for the Highlanders.

The victory, which backed up the Blues' opening-round 31-16 triumph over the Hurricanes, underlines their genuine contender credentials.

After an early Highlanders penalty, the Blues got the first try in the ninth minute when Otere Black finished off Rieko Ioane's good work.

The Blues got their second try seven minutes later, with numbers on the left side allowing Rieko Ioane to draw the defence and offload for Caleb Clarke to score in the corner.

They were denied a spectacular try by a TMO ruling that Akira Ioane's pass to Rieko Ioane was forward shortly prior to half-time.

Josh Dickson was yellow-carded before the break and Emoni Narawa added a third Blues try shortly after the interval, as they spread right after a rolling maul.

Clarke's good kicking set up another opportunity which was taken by substitute hooker Kurt Eklund from another Blues rolling maul which left the Highlanders helpless.

Ash Dixon pulled a try back for the visitors, before flanker Akira Ioane dived over for the Blues.

Blues scrum-half Sam Nock received a late sin-binning for cynical play before Folau Fakatava got a late consolation try for the Highlanders, squeezing over the line.

Jordan Petaia rounded off a remarkable comeback from the Reds with a last-gasp try as they dealt the Brumbies their first defeat in Super Rugby AU this season in a 40-38 thriller. 

The defending champion Brumbies led 24-16 at half-time of a rematch of last year's final and stretched their advantage to 15 points after Folau Fainga'a went over for his second try. 

But Taniela Tupou and Harry Wilson crossed within six minutes of each other to trim the gap to a point and James O'Connor's penalty kept the Reds within striking distance even after Issak Fines' try had briefly settled Brumbies' nerves. 

Yet it was Petaia who had a stunning final say, displaying superb handling to gather Hunter Paisami's low kick and touch down. 

O'Connor slotted over a simple yet crucial conversion to clinch victory for the impressive Reds, who have three wins from three and are just two points behind leaders the Brumbies, who have played a game more. 

In the Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament, the Crusaders breezed to a 39-17 win over the Chiefs, making it three straight wins to start their title defence.

They led by a slender 11-10 margin at half-time, the first half lit up by an extraordinary finish in the left-hand corner from Leicester Fainga'anuku. 

But they ran in four tries after the break and are nine points clear of the Highlanders at the top, albeit having played a game more.

The Rebels held on despite a second-half red card to defeat Western Force 10-7 and claim their first win of the Super Rugby AU season.

Two narrow losses, including a heartbreaking defeat to the Brumbies last time out when Ryan Lonergan scored after the final siren, meant they came into the contest second bottom in the standings.

Force, meanwhile, had enjoyed an upset win over the Waratahs but could not record back-to-back-victories on Friday and have now been overtaken by the Rebels.

A try from Lachie Anderson, who crossed down the right wing after a patient team move, was the only score of the first half as the Rebels went into the interval with a five-point advantage.

When a superb burst from Marika Koroibete set up Joe Powell to cross for the Rebels just after the hour mark, it looked like it was game over.

But there was a frantic final 11 minutes, which began when Jack McGregor darted over in the corner for the home side after collecting a loose ball, with Ian Prior converting to cut the gap to three.

Rebels lock Ross Haylett-Petty was then promptly sent off for a high and direct hit on Tomas Lezana.

Force threw everything at the visitors in the final stages but, having spurned the chance to kick a late penalty and level the contest, they could not find a way over the line. 

The Crusaders made it two wins from two games to start the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa season with a 33-16 victory over the Hurricanes in Christchurch on Sunday.

The 2019 Super Rugby champions trailed 6-0 early but capitalised on Ardie Savea's sin binning to pile on 33 unanswered points to race away with an emphatic victory which underlined their title credentials.

The Crusaders finished with five tries to two, led by All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor who scored a double, while he set up Richie Mo'unga (four conversions) for his try.

Flanker Ethan Blackadder and lock Scott Barrett also touched down before half-time as the hosts opened up a 26-6 lead at the break.

After Taylor's second try in the 46th minute, the Hurricanes pulled one back thanks to Ricky Riccitelli with steady rain falling in the second half.

Will Jordan was disallowed a try for the Crusaders after he was unable to ground the ball cleanly.

Moments later the Hurricanes went down the other end to add respectability to the score with Peter Umaga-Jensen scampering over in the corner.

"It wasn't a complete performance but we can be happy with the result nonetheless," Crusaders captain Barrett told Sky TV.

Ryan Lonergan's sensational kick after the siren sealed a 27-24 win for the Brumbies over the Rebels on Saturday.

The replacement scrum-half set up Tom Banks for a late try before scoring the winning penalty four minutes into additional time.

The unbeaten Super Rugby AU champions trailed 12-10 at half-time and had captain Allan Alaalatoa sent off for dangerous play moments before the interval.

However, the Rebels could only get on the scoreboard through immaculate kicking from Matt To'omua as they failed to turn their man advantage into tries.

To'omua kicked four penalties to give the Rebels their lead at the break after Len Ikitau's 20th-minute try following a Noah Lolesio grubber.

A penalty try handed the home side a boost eight minutes into the second half, but it looked as though ill-discipline would prove their undoing as To'omua's faultless kicking gave the Rebels the edge.

Then came Lonergan's divine intervention. Banks received his clever pass and dived beneath the posts, with Lonergan's conversion making it 24-21.

To'omua's eighth penalty of the contest levelled the scores with four minutes to go, only for Lonergan to have the final say, launching the winning kick through the posts from distance to spark wild celebrations in the nearby dugout.

The Brumbies stay top of the table and have now won 18 of their past 19 home games.

In the opening contest of the weekend, the Western Force likewise had to survive with 14 men on Friday as the visitors held firm to beat the Waratahs 20-16 in Sydney.

Hooker Dave Porecki's fifth-minute try and eight points from the boot of Will Harrison gave the home side a 13-0 lead, but that advantage was cut to three points in the space of four minutes, Jake McIntyre converting Fergus Lee-Warner's score before kicking a penalty.

Tim Anstee snuck over the whitewash but the Force were left with a battle on their hands after Andrew Ready saw red for swinging a punch during an off-the-ball clash.

Harrison squeezed over a penalty to cut the deficit to a point with seven minutes left, but Ian Prior stretched the lead to four in the closing moments as the Force saw out their first win since 2017.

Wing wizard Jona Nareki ran in a hat-trick as the Highlanders recovered from a 14-point deficit to sink the Chiefs 39-23 in Hamilton.

The result meant the Chiefs lost a 10th successive game, and they will scarcely have better opportunities to get back to winning ways in Super Rugby Aotearoa, having led 20-6 inside half an hour of this contest.

Yellow cards for Sio Tomkinson and Ash Dixon hindered the Highlanders early on, and tries from Luke Jacobson and Damian McKenzie put the Chiefs apparently in charge.

Nareki had other ideas, though, and when the 23-year-old sprinted 90 metres from deep inside his own 22 to score, it was an ominous warning of what was to come.

Folau Fakatava cut further into the narrowing deficit 10 minutes into the second half, darting over from close range, and then Nareki took over, firstly with a lung-busting dash through midfield that ended with him feeding Shannon Frizell to power over the line.

Nareki himself raced over in the right corner for his second try in the 57th minute, showing great pace but also the nimblest of footwork to scythe through the Chiefs defence.

He got in again in the 69th minute, this time on the left, beating a desperate last-ditch attempted tackle to dot down in the corner and complete the hat-trick.

Josh Ioane added the extras to four of the Highlanders' five tries and added a pair of penalties, with the Chiefs left wounded by a brutal setback.

All Blacks half-back Aaron Smith has committed to New Zealand Rugby (NZR) until the 2023 World Cup in France after signing a new contract.

NZR confirmed on Tuesday that the 32-year-old, who has 97 caps for the All Blacks, had penned a new deal securing his future with Super Rugby side Highlanders and provincially with Manawatu.

Palmerston North-born Smith is New Zealand's most capped half-back and remains a key member of the All Blacks side who finished third at the 2019 World Cup.

"One thing that hasn't changed is my love for the Highlanders, the All Blacks and Manawatu," Smith said.

"The decision to stay is based on a number of things, but I'm very keen to see the Highlanders do well, we have a good environment here and some great, young players, so I think the next few years will be exciting for us and it'll be great to be part of it.

"Dunedin has been good to me. My wife Teagan and I have a home and a business here and our son Luka was born here. 

"I felt that committing to the Highlanders for another few years in some small way says thanks for all the support we have enjoyed over the years."

All Blacks coach Ian Foster added that Smith's influence on the side could not be underestimated.

"He is so instrumental in the way we play the game and is such a vital cog for us, both on and off the field, so this is fantastic news," Foster said. 

"We're delighted that Aaron, Teagan and his family have decided to commit to New Zealand and congratulate them on the decision."

It is anticipated Smith will bring up his 100th New Zealand cap this year, while he is two caps away from equalling the record for most appearances for the Highlanders.

Mackenzie Hansen crossed for a hat-trick as the Brumbies ran in nine tries to thrash the Waratahs 61-10 in a lopsided Super Rugby AU clash at GIO Stadium in Canberra. 

The hosts made it 17 wins in 18 games at home, scoring 35 points without reply in the second half of proceedings. 

Waratahs actually opened the scoring through a Will Harrison penalty, yet Rob Valetini, Hansen, Noah Lolesio and Connal McInerney all grabbed tries to make it 26-10 to the hosts at the interval. 

Harry Johnson-Holmes had gone over for a score after 30 minutes that Harrison also converted, yet the overwhelmed Waratahs were ripped apart after the break. 

Wing Hansen crossed again in the 56th minute before completing his treble with nine minutes remaining. There were also tries for Nic White, Lachlan Lonergan and Tom Banks, while Lolesio kicked five conversions to give the fly-half a personal haul of 15 points. 

Replacement Ryan Lonergan took over kicking duties to land three conversion attempts following his introduction, helping the Brumbies claim their biggest ever win over their domestic rivals. It is also their biggest margin of victory in a Super Rugby fixture over a fellow Australian team.

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