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Back to basics: The 2017 Richmond story

Coach of the Tigers, Damien Hardwick. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Roar Guru
4th September, 2017
4

The hardest years. The darkest years. The roaring years and the fallen years. These should not be forgotten years.

This Midnight Oil tune may have a meaning completely unrelated to football, however for Richmond these lyrics resinate on a profound level.

The supporters’ signatures of loyalty have been stained with tears year on end, with little to show for it.

Damien Hardwick foreshadowed this resurgence last year when he asserted the Tigers must take a step back to go forward.

Many were perplexed, but his message justified through Richmond’s alteration to their style of play.

Richmond scrapped their attempts to revolutionise the game and instead reverted to basics.

Someone obviously came to the realisation scoring goals consists of moving the ball and locking it in the forward line.

This realisation has been credited to the revamped football department borne out of last season’s highly contentious coaching review which resulted in the appointment of Neil Balme in the football department and highly regarded tactical coaches Blake Caracella and Justin Leppitsch.

The Tiger resurgence can be explained by the constant penetration inside their attacking third.

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The Richmond way has always been moving the play as quickly as possible and many are certainly thankful the 2017 team adopted this.

No longer do the players look to move the ball laterally, acknowledging goals are more likely to be scored when the ball is deep within the forward line.

This also allows the Tigers to better adapt to the wet weather. Instead of being forced to make changes to suit the conditions, the players have almost been conditioned to amplify this route one style.

Many were critical of Richmond’s possession based style last season. The club responded through their investment in roving small forwards, encouraging long kicks down the line to a contest allowing for the smaller players to rove off the packs.

A plan which would make Kevin Bartlett smile.

It sounds awfully simple, but football is not a difficult game.

There is no need to overcomplicate a sport where players kick an oval shaped ball between two large poles.

While this style of play may appear unattractive from the onset, Richmond have managed to execute it in a manner of precision by playing to their strengths.

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Trent Cotchin Richmond Tigers AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

Despite not having a recognised second tall in the forward line the Tigers have taken the most marks inside 50 through their quick ball movement not allowing the opposition to set up behind the ball.

One of the sides to expose Richmond’s lack of aerial threat this season has been the Swans, who despite being down by a considerable margin set up behind the ball and attacked in waves on the counter.

Another significant asset to this style of play is the development of a key defender.

And no, Alex Rance is not the defender.

While the Richmond vice-captain and All-Australian captain may accumulate the accolades, it was David Astbury’s development which set foundations for this attacking style of play.

Prior to this season, Rance was relied upon to play as a traditional key defender while initiating the attack off the half back line.

Astbury’s ability to play as the solid one-on-one defender has allowed Rance to drift as an attacking-defender off the half-back line.

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It can be argued Rance’s full capabilities as a player surfaced through this slight positional change.

The faith shown by the club towards positioning Astbury on the best opposition forward has enabled him to mature into one of the best emerging defenders.

It would be expected Damien Hardwick position Astbury on Harry Taylor, should he play forward when the two sides meet on Friday. Taylor’s desire to play one-on-one better suits Astbury as opposed to Rance who would rather prefer the more agile and explosive Tom Hawkins.

Ironically despite much of the exterior criticism being directed towards Richmond’s defence, the Tigers were reluctant to fill these holes via the transfer market, choosing to invest in the development of Astbury and Grimes.

The Tigers conceded the third least amount of points this season, a significant improvement after conceding quite heavily last year.

The jury may still be out as to whether Paul Roos’ defensive philosophy surpasses Blight’s attacking style of play. Both formulas have proven to be successful ones and it appears the Tigers may have found the perfect balance heading into the finals.