Tackling the issue in the AFL

Justin Mitchell Roar Rookie

By Justin Mitchell, Justin Mitchell is a Roar Rookie New author!


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    In the wake of recent suspensions to Patrick Dangerfield and Brodie Grundy, penalised for tackles that 20 years ago would have been deemed close to perfect, there’s a growing concern in the greater AFL community that the crackdown on head impacts and concussions is having a detrimental effect on the toughness of the sport.

    The AFL has been unambiguous in their goal to reduce or remove concussions and head-related injuries, and the crackdown on tackling technique is just another step in the evolution of the sport.

    The spotlight has certainly been shone on the sport following the Brodie Grundy tackle on Ben Brown, who was feared at one point to have had a broken neck after being slung into the turf.

    Bizarrely Nathan Buckley, coach of Collingwood, declared it to be a perfect tackle, with the tackling player pinning both arms of Ben Brown, before slamming him into the ground.

    Grundy was charged with rough conduct by the match review panel and subsequently offered a two-week suspension, which the club begrudgingly accepted, but it has left former Collingwood player and media personality Brian Taylor fuming.

    “I am (worried about the future of tackling) if we’re going to jump at this and make rule changes because all of a sudden we’ve had a spate of these head knocks from sling tackles,” he said on Channel 7.

    “We’ve seen the bump all but disappear and you’ve got to have other options now, when you go in to bump you’ve got to tackle.

    “Now we’re being told yeah you can tackle but don’t pin the arms because if he falls over you might hurt him as well.

    “We’re at risk of taking out the element of tackling in our game, which is very, very important.

    “We’ve overreacted.”

    Jon Ralph for the Herald Sun disagrees with the arguments put forward by Buckley and Taylor, and instead points out that if these “perfect tackles” put players in hospital, and would be acceptable, the game would be in crisis.

    “If the “perfect tackle” were dumping of the game’s best players into the turf so hard he spent a night in hospital then our game would be in crisis.”

    Gillon McLachlan spoke to 3AW last Friday, and said that if a player’s arms are pinned, then the application of the rules and suspensions are probably justified.

    “This concept of being able to pin a bloke’s arms and drive their head into the turf and knock them out. I think the rule is right and was the application right? I think it was,” McLachlan said on 3AW.

    AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan

    (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

    Swans veteran, former captain Kieren Jack agrees, and says that there’s no confusion at the Swans over the tackling interpretations in the AFL.

    “There have been so many different rule changes with what you can and can’t do (when tackling),” he said on Tuesday.

    “I think that what players are aware of is that any sort of slinging (a player) to the ground or any dumping action, is going to be heavily scrutinised.

    “The tough part is when you want to pin an arm, sometimes you can’t see where the ball is, and whether they’ve disposed of it or not, and that’s the delicate issue.

    “Whether that takes away the physical element of the game, who knows?

    “There’s certainly an element where you can still tackle hard but you don’t have to dump and sling them to the ground.”

    It’s up to the club, and players, to keep abreast and informed of the latest trends, rules and interpretations of the AFL, and Jack says it’s something the Swans frequently do.

    “We do it all the time, (and talk about) what’s legal and what’s not,” he said.

    “In the end you get free kicks for and against you and it can cost you, so we’re constantly aware of that.

    “I think that’s been the key to come out of the weekend’s game, that any type of slinging or motion like that you’re going to get penalised for it.”

    The argument has always been to protect the physicality and integrity of the game, while protecting the welfare of the players.

    But the trade off often leads to once accepted practices and norms being abandoned, or significantly reigned in, such as the latest incidents involving Hawkins, Duncan, Bugg, Dangerfield and Grundy have shown.

    You’re always going to have players from different eras question the application of rules, the constant tinkering of the interpretations, and blast the AFLs gung-ho approach to protecting the head and preventing concussion.

    But with what we know now, and certainly learned from the NFL, it’s getting quite ridiculous to accuse the AFL of softening a tough and physical game, in the goal of ensuring professional players remain highly functional once their careers have ended.

    A number of players over the last 10-to-15 years have retired from concussion or head-related injuries, and you only have to look as far as Justin Koschitzke feinting on live television, as a warning for what may come from head injuries.

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    The Crowd Says (5)

    • August 11th 2017 @ 10:02am
      Perry Bridge said | August 11th 2017 @ 10:02am | ! Report

      It’s pretty simple. The tackle is NOT a free for all. It never was. Far more technical than a Rugby tackle. Can’t trip. Between shoulders and knees. Can’t ride into the ground/push in the back.

      That far in I think everyone agrees.

      So – we can have a first phase perfect tackle – and the tackler looks set to get the free – but, then he makes a meal of the completion – his momentum drives straight through the tacklee and he rides him into the ground. Free against. Simple. Work around – learn how to take your body to one side and bring tacklee to ground beside you and not under you.

      It’s a technique thing.

      So too – the Grundy tackle. He’d executed phase 1 perfectly and earned his free on the basis of that.

      However – what got him in trouble is what he CHOSE to do next. And – perhaps he didn’t trust that he’d win the free (umpiring has given TOO much lee way to the tacklee who gets caught) – and he decided to slam (not just ‘through to the ground’ – but full strength body slam) Brown into the ground from a very vulnerable position.

      When both arms are pinned – you don’t need to wrench the guy to the ground. You don’t.

      That was a choice to ‘hurt’ the tacklee. Other options – well – other options are around technically correct completion of the skill and Grundy chose not too. Grundy could drop himself to his knees to the side as he pulls Brown off his feet and makes any sort of disposal (a feeble kick) impossible.

      He faced the wrath of the MRP. Simple. Unduly rough play.

    • August 11th 2017 @ 12:03pm
      Lroy said | August 11th 2017 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

      Get rid of the ball before you get tackled, like we used to do in the old days…or learn to blind turn and throw a dummy..

      get caught…get hurt…

      end of story.

      • August 11th 2017 @ 12:22pm
        Perry Bridge said | August 11th 2017 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

        One aspect of the old days that is gone – lift the arms so you can get an arm free. Players now are instructed to hold it in – prefer to give up a free kick (and slow it down so as able to set up the defence) than let the ball spill out for even a 50/50 where a quick movement might occur.

        • August 11th 2017 @ 7:54pm
          Lroy said | August 11th 2017 @ 7:54pm | ! Report

          Good point 😉

    • August 11th 2017 @ 12:54pm
      Pope Paul VII said | August 11th 2017 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

      900 odd tackles non concussing tackles on the weekend and only a couple of dangerous ones.

      BT is blabbering. Luke Darcy was worse, blaming Ben Brown for not breaking his fall! Give yourself a faceplant Lukey.

      Google youtube and you will find 100s of perfect, ball and all, arms pinned tackles that don’t result in concussions.

      I’ll have to google 1997 and thereabouts specifically to see if this type of head thumper was common then. I don’t reckon it was.

      Also the bump is not banned, perhaps we might see a revival where players go in a bit lower. However part of the way the game is played there isn’t a lot of opportunity to bump unless you are clearing the way for a teammate. Mumford, Cunnington and the Melbourne bloke who’s name escapes me all bumped when the should have been tackling but I understand the primal urge. Ironically the Melbourne bloke made the best contact but was not fined or suspended. I miss it but it had become a sniping tactic. Love Byron Pickett but he perfected it so well that something had to be done.

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