Defensive Tigers turn the corner

5 June 2013

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Richmond entered Monday night’s fixture at Patersons Stadium as the underdog after an unimpressive start to the season.

Still winless against a serious finals contender after an embarrassing display against Essendon last week, this match threatened to be a blowout. A poor away record against the Eagles – two wins from 15 meetings – and a heartbreaking loss to the Dockers at the same ground in round five did nothing to buoy the Tigers confidence.

As the first quarter got underway, there was a collective groan from Tiger fans and a simultaneous “I told you so” from the rest of the AFL community.

The Eagles were running well and entering their forward 50 with ease. This put immense pressure on the Richmond defence, which is undersized to deal with Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and resting ruckmen Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui. Troy Chaplin struggled to make an impact in both one-out contests and his preferred role as third man in. Alex Rance was being convincingly beaten by Kennedy, who took three easy marks and kicked two goals.

When West Coast kicked a behind, the Tigers would not bring the ball back into play with any kind of confidence. It seemed as though the player kicking out – often Bachar Houli – did not want the ball, nor the responsibility, in his hands. This trend continued as the Richmond defenders worked the ball around with short kicks, with every player too scared to take a risk or make an error. When the long kick was finally made, it either missed the target or fell to a contest that generally favoured the Eagles.

Terrible decision-making and a lack of composure were also on show when Richmond looked to defuse a West Coast attack. A dubious handball was delivered to an under-pressure Houli who fumbled and gifted Daniel Kerr the easiest of goals.



The Tigers just managed to stay in touch on the scoreboard during the opening term. While the side was losing the hit-outs and being outmarked up forward, defence remained the primary concern.

Richmond’s defence has been patchy all season.

Despite running out comfortable winners against the Western Bulldogs, Port Adelaide and Melbourne, the back half has been under immense pressure at various stages. Resultantly, a plethora of errors that have plagued the Tigers, with inaccurate kicking, excessive handballing, and fumbling amongst the Tigers most common mistakes.

But when Richmond clicks, all these problems seem to disappear. The defenders play the ball out of the 50 with confidence and avoid kicking short or to contests. This has proven to be far more effective and opens up the game for the side’s dynamic midfield and forward line.

Key defenders Alex Rance and Troy Chaplin are confidence players. When matched up against power forwards, things can go very badly. Travis Cloke monstered Rance when they met in round four, and Chaplin has a tendency to disappear from games when he’s struggling. However, when they play themselves out of these situations, as they did against Josh Kennedy and the Eagles last night, they become important cogs in the Richmond running and rebounding machine.

Running defenders Bachar Houli, Chris Newman, and young rising stars Brandon Ellis and Nick Vlastuin, all provide link up options when moving the ball out of defence.



Rance, Chaplin and Steve Morris attack packs with the intent to mark, not spoil. And, if they ball does go ground, Richmond’s stoppers remain composed and clear the ball cleanly. Tackling also improves and evolves into effective gang tackling.

Morris is ever-accountable and inspires his team with acts of courage. He also plays a superb stopping role – he has conceded only six goals to his direct opponent so far this season. He kept livewire small forward Marc LeCras to just one goal on Monday night.

Midfielders Brett Deledio, Trent Cotchin, Dustin Martin, Nathan Foley, Daniel Jackson and Shaun Grigg all get back to assist effectively and clog up space.

Defensive depth is another positive for a Richmond side that is looking for it’s first finals berth since 2001. Highly-touted Dylan Grimes is recovering from a short-term injury, while Jake Batchelor, Matt Dea and super boot Ben Griffiths have all received playing time this year.

Richmond’s defence, like all other back lines in the AFL, has bad days. But when it plays well, it is a brilliant defensive unit that has the ability shut down even the best forwards, and perhaps even carry the Tigers into a finals appearance.

John Lindon is a second-year sports journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter: @jagrlin

Photo: Twitter – AFL Photos