SYDNEY (Reuters) - Queensland Reds hooker Alex Mafi scored his second try and James O'Connor converted two minutes from time to the give them a last-gasp 23-21 Super Rugby AU victory over the Melbourne Rebels in Brisbane on Friday.
The visitors had led until that point on the back of seven penalty kicks and Matt To'omua still had a chance to steal the match at the death but the Wallabies playmaker steered his attempt wide of the Lang Park posts from 42 metres out.
To'omua kicked five penalties to give his side a 15-6 lead just after halftime as the Rebels looked to gain a measure of revenge for their loss to the Reds in the playoff semi-final in last year's inaugural competition.
They outsmarted the Reds for much of their season-opener, defusing the high-octane home attack with stifling defence while To'omua punished their mistakes from the kicking tee.
The Reds, handsome winners over the New South Wales Waratahs in round one last week, looked to their forwards to try and break down the visiting defence and got their reward when Mafi got his first try off the rolling maul in the 48th minute.
Rebels centre Reece Hodge stepped up to kick a long-range penalty five minutes later to extend the lead to 18-13, however, and it looked bleak for the Reds when Feao Fotuaika was shown a red card for a dangerous ruck infringement in the 57th minute.
O'Connor and To'omua traded another penalty apiece in the final 20 minutes as the Reds desperately scrambled for a try, rugby League convert Suliasi Vunivalu coming close to doing just that with his first touch as a Red.
Mafi knocked-on in the tackle with the line at his mercy a few minutes before he did finally barge over to score his second, allowing O'Connor to seal the victory with the extras.
It was a cruel blow for the Rebels, who played their entire 2020 campaign on the road because of the COVID-19 pandemic and were forced to leave their homes in a hurry again two weeks ago ahead of a snap coronavirus lockdown in Melbourne.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Toby Davis)