Forget rushed behinds furore, just protect the ball-getters
The unseen 19th player every team has lurking around its defensive goal square, Rushby Hines, is the name on everyone’s lips this week as clubs consider their responses to the AFL’s suggestions for banning him for life or cramping his style because he’s smartened up his act.
With some critics baying for penalties against rushed behinds because of their well-thought-out use this year by some teams, including Hawthorn in the grand final, we could be forgiven for thinking this is the end of Australian football as we know it.
The powers-that-be have come up with half a dozen suggestions about what can be done to either eliminate or control this perceived menace, with clubs having until Friday to pass their thoughts on for consideration by the rules committee and then the AFL Commission.
Among them are a free kick from where the ball was rushed, a bounce a certain distance out from goal, a throw-in or free kick at the behind post, a free from where the 50-metre arc meets the boundary line, preventing the player doing the rushing from bringing the ball back into play, and waiting for the goal umpire to wave the flags before play can resume.
Only one of those ideas – the last one – should get past first base.
And it should be adopted not just for rushed behinds, but after all behinds are scored.
In other words, go back to the tried and true rule that was in place for a long, long time until somebody got the bright idea that allowing the defence to bring the ball back into play faster would “improve” the game by speeding it up.
That change in turn brought with it a rash of moves to counter the quick kick-in, such as a number of variations of zone or cluster defences by the supposedly attacking team, resulting in the almost inevitable, boring, use of a short kick to a player who manages to get into some space deep in the back pocket.
The only obviously good thing the new rule brought in was having a container of balls available behind the goals so the game wasn’t held up by waiting for the ball to come back from the crowd.
Changing the rules in any of the ways suggested to penalise rushed behinds would bring more problems than it would solve, as it would add yet another area in which interpretation, rather than black-and-white decisions, would play a part.
Who’s to say a behind has been rushed deliberately by the defence when the ball comes off the hands of four or five players contesting it in the air?
Was it really a defender who deliberately knocked it through? Was it accidental? Or was it knocked through by an attacking player on the team a point behind with less than a minute to play in the grand final?
That’d be a nice way to win a premiership, for example by kicking another behind from 50 metres out on the boundary line after getting a free kick for your own rushed behind, wouldn’t it?
Footystats contributor Kathryn Michaelsen set out a number of ways some of the other proposed changes could affect the outcome of matches in an article on Monday. It’s well worth a read by Rushby’s detractors.
Of the other suggested rule changes, the continued use of four boundary umpires makes most sense. The pace the game is played at these days makes it impossible for one man to patrol the whole length of the ground effectively, with cases of the ball going out undetected in nearly every match.
Marking the goal line so it takes the padding on the posts into account is a sensible idea, and so are recalling wacky bounces by the umpires and reducing the penalty for technical interchange offences, although there should be nothing as drastic as a 50-metre penalty involved – just handing the ball over to the opposition would suffice.
Increasing the number of field umpires from three to four is rubbish – the variation in interpretations is already bad enough without giving another bloke a chance to make it even more confusing.
What the rules wallahs should be concentrating on is eliminating interpretation in favour of clearcut rulings, and there are two situations where they should start – high tackles and pushes in the back.
One of the biggest blights on the game is when a player is making a brave attempt to win the ball and gets penalised for lying on it while an opponent on top of him has an arm over his shoulder with his hand holding the ball in against the ball-getter.
That is clearly a high tackle over the shoulder, and should be penalised as such. So should any other tackle in which the tackler makes contact above the ball-carrier’s shoulder, whether the man with the ball ducks into the tackle or not. That removes the scope for interpretation where one umpire might think the player ducked and another might not.
Tackles from behind in which the ball-carrier is propelled forward should always be paid as pushes in the back – the rule says the tackler must retard the progress of the man with the ball, but too many times he gets a free kick for increasing it. Again, making this a hard and fast rule would remove inconsistent interpretations.
In both these examples, taking away the element of interpretation would favour the player going for, or possessing, the ball, which is the way it was always meant to be.
“Dwelling” to tackle the ball-player is a disgrace and should be eliminated.