Rugby Championship Round 3: Scott Barrett red card a no-brainer

South Africa claimed the Rugby Championship for the first time after running out comprehensive 46-13 winners over Argentina.

That result meant the Springboks finished four points clear at the top of the table, Australia finishing second after their upset win over New Zealand.

Read on as we review some of the key talking points from the weekend's Tests.


Barrett's shoulder a red card? You bet it is

Scott Barrett first-half red card has sent the rugby world into a spin, with opinions split as to whether it warranted such a punishment. But given World Rugby's attempts to make the game safer to play and the laws and ruling framework they have brought in to do just that, referee Jerome Garces was left with no other choice but to give the All Blacks lock his marching orders.

With the All Blacks leading 12-10 just two minutes out from halftime and the Wallabies pressing hard on attack, Michael Hooper grabbed the ball from the base of a ruck; Hooper was initially grabbed by Dane Coles, but just as the Wallabies skipper was preparing to go to ground he was whacked by Barrett.

Garces could not have been in a better position to blow an immediate penalty but, after hearing Hooper let out a prolonged wail, the French referee waited a few moments before calling a halt to play. Garces then consulted with Television Match Official Marius Jonker, before deciding on his final decision.

"I had a clear picture on the field, he never uses his arm; he just puts his shoulder and elbow on [Hooper's] neck and head. It's clearly dangerous, it's direct with force, so I have no option it will be a red card against four black."

Garces could not have articulated his ruling any better. In explaining why Barrett's shoulder charge was worthy of a red card and not just yellow, he clearly followed the process that World Rugby released earlier this year to deal with these exact kind of incidents.

That same World Rugby process includes an asterisk that deals with "mitigating factors", one of which is whether the player's bodyheight drops suddenly just before contact. But Hooper was never carrying in an upright position, the Wallabies skipper's bodyheight was low throughout the brief few moments of his run.

Beauden Barrett leapt to his brother's defence on Sunday, declaring him not to be a dirty player. We have no reason to suggest otherwise, so mark this down as a rare misjudgement on the All Blacks lock's part.

Scott Barrett may have thought he could get away with it on this occasion, but he instead cost his side any chance of winning the Test match. Of that there is little doubt.

And so too is the need to get these kind of tackles out of the game. There was an uproar when Sam Warburton was red-carded in Wales' semifinal defeat by France at the 2011 World Cup; nowadays incidents of similar lifting tackles are few and far between. Players have adjusted their behaviour and technique because they understand how a lifting tackle can easily go wrong, and just what the outcome will be when it does.

Any player who is game enough to risk repeating Barrett's tackle in Japan should expect to suffer a similar fate.

Wallabies' O'Connor gamble gives backline a boost

It was the selection that no one saw coming.

James O'Connor at outside centre? Really? Cheika has truly lost it this time.

But the Wallabies coach and his selection team deserve credit for a gutsy call that has now created a clear competition to wear the No. 13 jersey in Japan. As it stands, O'Connor absolutely deserves the chance to finish the All Blacks off in Auckland this weekend, as do the rest of his Wallabies teammates.

And he has clearly put the pressure squarely on Tevita Kuridrani who, until Saturday night, appeared to be the Wallabies' only genuine option at outside centre, save for a roll of the dice on the uncapped Jordan Petaia.

O'Connor was keen to get into Saturday night's contest from the outset and seemed to slot in seamlessly in the Wallabies' early backline shifts. But it was his one-handed offload for Reece Hodge's try that really caught the eye.

While there may have been a tad of good fortune in Anton Lienert-Brown's failure to grasp what looked to be an excellent opportunity for an intercept, O'Connor's strength in holding off the tackle of Ben Smith and then manouvreing his left arm to deliver the offload to Hodge was all class.

O'Connor again played provider for Hodge's second five-pointer after the break when he threw the final pass for the winger to step back inside Rieko Ioane, but just as impressive was O'Connor's willingness to come in looking for work both as a ball-carrier and as second distributor.

It is clear that Samu Kerevi will be used primarily as a ball-carrier, but also that he is far more comfortable in the No. 12 jersey. That means the Wallabies must have a foil for Kerevi up their sleeve, and it may just be O'Connor.

After promising so much as a teenager but losing his way off the field, it also appears that O'Connor has at last realised what he needs to do to fulfill the potential he as always had.

"He's changed a lot since the last time I've seen him - just really low key," Kerevi said of O'Connor.

"After the recovery session, I was asking him if he wanted to go into the city and he said he was going to go to bed and get some more food and get the recovery packs on. I was like 'ah ok, ok. He's the ultimate professional now'."

'Dumb footy' aside, All Blacks not quite right

It may have been little more than a push to the back of a head, but Ardie Savea's silly palm on Michael Hooper earned the ire of his coach post match as Steve Hansen labelled it "dumb footy."

And you can guarantee Hansen will demand improvements across the board from his side after they finished the Rugby Championship with a 1-1-1 record to finish third. New Zealand were also lucky to defeat the Pumas in Buenos Aires, and South Africa's 46-13 thrashing of the South Americans has certainly put that performance further into the spotlight.

Something just doesn't seem to be right with these All Blacks. They were obviously without Brodie Retallick at the weekend, but they were still clearly dominated physically by the Wallabies in a scenario we have rarely seen before.

Savea certainly made the most of his start in the new-look back-row - his 'dumb' play aside - but Sam Cane could manage only one run and didn't appear to get on the ball at the breakdown with any real force either.

But bigger concerns may lay up front at prop where Joe Moody and Owen Franks could only muster one run between them in Perth. If the Richie Mo'unga-Beauden Barrett combination is to be given the time and space it needs to flourish, then Franks and Moody will need to be contributing on the carry.

It's an issue that certainly isn't lost on former All Blacks coach John Hart.

"We need to win the collisions and the pack didn't [do that]," Hart told stuff.co.nz. "We need more people carrying, and we need them more direct. And we need to eliminate the mistakes. With the penalties and dropped ball in the first 20, no wonder you're under the pump."

Watch out for the response in Auckland. You know it's going to come, and come it will.


Pollard at the top of his game

Handre Pollard can lead the Springboks to a third World Cup triumph.

Four years on from South Africa's semifinal exit when he was confined to play 10-man rugby and little else, Pollard will enter this World Cup as arguably the most complete fly-half of any in Japan.

The Springboks No. 10 rounded out a stellar fortnight with a 31-point haul in the Springboks' 33-point hammering of the Pumas, Pollard scoring two tries to go with three conversions and five penalty goals.

Pollard's willingness to take the line on himself with be a vital part of the Springboks' World Cup assault; carrying into a defensive wall holds few fears for the Bulls playmaker.

He first ran straight over the top of Nicolas Sanchez to score a vital try just before the break in Salta, and Pollard then ran a line the likes of Eben Etzebeth or Duane Vermeulen are more accustomed to when he threw himself between two Pumas defenders to grab his second.

Elsewhere, the Springboks look to be the complete package. Coach Rassie Erasmus has depth across positions and has given his team the confidence to play attacking rugby and back their skills when the situation presents.

They will take some beating in Japan, their Yokohama opener against the All Blacks on September 21 one you simply cannot miss.

Pumas have some clear issues to address

Argentina got off to a flying start in Salta when Nicolas Sanchez dropped a perfectly-placed cross-kick into the corner for Santiago Cordero to score after just two minutes. But it was the only five-pointer the Pumas could manage, meaning they finished the Rugby Championship with just three tries in total, two of which came from kicks.

That simply won't be enough to mix it with the best teams in Japan, and coach Mario Ledesma must find a way to bring more strike to his attack before the tournament kicks off.

One positive sign from Argentina's defeat in Salta was the fact they gave up only 11 turnovers, that is a huge improvement on the 30 they offered up against the Wallabies in Brisbane.

But they did concede 18 line breaks, and given the ruthlessness the Springboks had already demonstrated against both the Wallabies and All Blacks that was never going to end well for Argentina.

The good news for the Pumas is they too have a chance to respond, just like the All Blacks, only the South Americans' opportunity comes against a Springboks team that is close to the top of its game and Saturday's Test will be played in Pretoria.