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Ruckmen who perform around the ground are no tall order

Roar Pro
7th April, 2014
29

You will often hear that Australian Rules football is ever-changing, and if you watch a round of matches from ten years ago there is no doubt that this is the case.

Rules, tactics, interchanges, zoning and flooding are all elements that have crept into our game, for better or worse. There is one element of our game which has not really changed, and I am not sure why – the tall ruckmen.

If anything, Round 3 of this season showed that coaches, recruiting staff and the way we view our ruckmen needs serious changing. We can all say that the bump is dead, but I think traditional ruckmen might be too.

It all started when Leigh Matthews declared after Friday night’s fizzer that Aaron Sandilands was the most overrated player in the AFL. It’s a very big call, but when you look at the stats it does not weigh up well for the Fremantle giant.

He clearly dominated the tap-outs once again on Friday, but this did not convert to centre clearances in Fremantle’s favour. This happens on a regular basis.

The big stat which needs addressing is the mere 11 possessions Sandilands had around the ground, which were anything but effective. It is all well and good to win tapouts, but if that is all Sandilands is contributing then you have to look at his effectiveness to be in the best 22.

You can also note that Ben McEvoy, Hawthorn’s first-choice ruckman, was a late withdrawal before the game.

What happened on Sunday night did not help the Sandilands-type ruckman’s cause either. Essendon had their two key ruckmen out in Paddy Ryder and Tom Bellchambers. Essendon’s ruck stocks were so depleted that they looked at placing Bellchambers on the long-term injury list and elevating a rookie in to fill the void.

They ended up turning to 52-gamer Jake Carlisle and eight-gamer Joe Daniher. Once again, the stats said it all.

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Carlton won the hit-outs with Robert Warnock as their key ruckman, but centre clearances went the way of the Bombers and we don’t even need to mention the scoreline. What was concerning was the woeful five possessions Warnock got around the ground. He also got just one mark – ridiculous for a man of his height, and surely not ‘effective’.

Compare this to Carlisle and Daniher, who racked up 17 and 14 disposals respectively. Between them they got 27 hit-outs, made a contest to get the ball down to the mids, and also between them put two goals on the board and over a dozen marks.

They were found all over the ground and the aerobic fitness of these two proved far more effective to be at and around contests as opposed to the 41 hit-outs and five possessions of Warnock. To rub salt in the wounds, when Carlisle was interviewed post-game about when he was informed by the coaching staff that you would be rucking tonight, he responded: “They didn’t, I just assumed.”

So what does this all mean for the future of our ruckmen?

We have seen the big-bodied, tall and mobile ruckmen dominate our game for the past 10 or so years. Brad Ottens and Dean Cox are the two standouts for me but looking at the draft, these types of players are hard to come across.

What we are seeing is players like Ryder, Daniher, Nic Naitanui, Matthew Kreuzer (good hands below his knees), Mark Blicavs, even your Michael Johnsons – lean, tall, aerobic players who can make a good contest as a ruckmen and actually do damage around the ground with their agility, ball use, contested marks and even ability to get on the scoreboard.

Surely this is the more effective way to play your ruckmen. Stats don’t lie and when teams win possession, centre clearances and contested footy, they win 99 times out of 100. So all AFL coaches need to consider how effective their ruckmen will be for 120 minutes of football, not the two minutes worth of ruck work they are doing in ball-ups and boundary throw-ins.

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