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Eagles win the battle, but Tigers likely to win the war

Samuel Ord Roar Pro

By Samuel Ord, Samuel Ord is a Roar Pro

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    West Coast devoured Richmond in a top of the table clash on Sunday afternoon, soaring home for a 47-point victory.

    Contested at Optus Stadium in front of a record-breaking crowd of more than 56,000, West Coast booted a stunning 20.10 (130) to crush Richmond’s meagre 12.11 (83) in sunny conditions.

    While watching my beloved yellow-and-black battalion get crushed is painful, what hurts most is the knowledge that the media and public are going to wildly overreact to this result.

    Heading into the match, Richmond and West Coast sat in first and second on the ladder, both with eight wins, a single loss and boasting fantastic percentages.

    In the opening quarter, West Coast surged ahead off the back of some outstanding coaching from Adam Simpson and co. Their ball movement was unbelievably well tempered. Moving slow, pushing and probing down the ground, the Eagles refused to allow the tempo of the contest accelerate to the pace Richmond desperately wanted.

    A side that thrives on opposition turnovers and aggressive rebound play, the Eagles blocked Richmond’s path to the scoreboard and set up a valuable early lead.

    In the second quarter that advantage vanished. Off the back of strong quarters from Alex Rance and Jack Reiwoldt, with Dustin Martin and Toby Nankervis also notable contributors, the Tigers dramatically sped up the flow of play.

    As a result, the sides went into the main break equal.

    In the second half, West Coast found that energy from the first quarter once again and crushed the Tigers right around the ground. While the contest remained free flowing, the Eagles dominated the uncontested possessions, operated at above 70 per cent efficiency and even managed to out-tackle Richmond.

    Playing on the Optus Stadium deck for the first time, Richmond didn’t look close to the contest in the second half.

    While it’s going to read as damage control, the first thing worth pointing out for those now doubting Richmond’s contender status is that this sort of result is not uncommon for the Tigers in the last two seasons.

    In Round 2, the Crows stomped Richmond at Adelaide Oval by 36 points. Last season, in Round 6, a then-undefeated Richmond was beaten by Adelaide by 76 points. Both were the Tigers’ first loss of the season.

    Richmond was also pulverised by St Kilda to the tune of 67 pointSin Round 16 of 2017, then the former won the premiership 84 days later.

    Let’s not panic in May.

    The Tigers are also developing a reputation as poor interstate travellers, dropping matches to Adelaide and the Eages this season. All I can say is doubt them at your peril.

    Last season none of the top-four finishers (Adelaide, Richmond, Geelong, Greater Western Sydney) successfully recorded an interstate victory against another top-four finisher.

    Richmond managed to defeat Gold Coast, Brisbane and Port Adelaide interstate in the same season. The Tigers defeated Fremantle by over 100 points in Western Australia late in the season and lost to Greater Western Sydney after a disallowed goal to Shai Bolton and an on-the-siren major to Jeremy Cameron.

    Even with all of this in mind, let’s not undermine the West Coast result. The Eagles lined up against the reigning premiers in Round 9 and crushed them – it’s an effort that must be celebrated.

    Two key Eagles stood out.

    In the first half, Elliot Yeo ran down the race and disappeared into the club rooms after an injury to his lower leg. A huge blow to West Coast, especially with Richmond evening up the scoreboard before halftime.

    In the third quarter, Yeo returned to the ground and claimed total control, matching Dustin Martin in tight and gaining what felt like an endless amount of metres gained to keep his side in constant attack.

    Yeo’s final statline read 29 disposals, ten clearances, six tackles and a goal – and he’s like to be rewarded for this effort against one of the competition’s premier midfield engines with a couple of Brownlow votes.

    Elliot Yeo West Coast Eagles AFL 2017

    Elliot Yeo (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    The other Eagle to tear the contest apart was Jack Darling.

    It’s no secret that Darling is having a wonderful season, sitting second in the hunt for the Coleman Medal with 28 goals – trailing only North Melbourne’s Ben Brown (31).

    Darling tore Richmond’s defence to pieces, thumping through six goals and missing from straight in front in last quarter for what should have been his seventh. He finished with 21 disposals and an unstoppable 15 marks, seven of them coming inside 50.

    Darling’s success is directly connected with the issue that will haunt Richmond the most coming out of this round – a complete failure for the back six.

    Heading into this weekend, Richmond had the competition’s best defensive network, conceding fewer than 70 points on average.

    Alex Rance played possibly his worst game in two years and needed to be switched away from his direct opponent multiple times. David Astbury, the quiet achiever in Richmond’s premiership year, was unable to compete close to his usual level body-to-body.

    Dylan Grimes, the final of the rock-solid trio, projected himself a long way down the ground but was ineffective. Richmond needed him down deep.

    It wasn’t just the three battlers struggling either. Bachar Houli, Nathan Broad and Nick Vlaustin were all weak coming off the half back line.

    However, in the long run, this unit need not despair. On Sunday, the Tigers conceded ten more goals than they do on average – that’s a shocking anomaly and not some kind of scary, creeping downward trend. Another month of good football down back and all will be forgotten.

    It’s obvious I’m coming to Richmond’s defences to a heavy degree here. Let’s talk about selection mistakes.

    Prior to the match, the Tigers made a late change – bringing in veteran Shaun Grigg, a return from injury, and dropping Jack Higgins.

    While the selection made sense, with Grigg’s seniority a bonus along with his ability to help Nankervis in the ruck, in the end he looked undercooked. Would have liked to see him have another week of rest.

    I mentioned Nankervis. Heading into the match the ruck option was no certainty, entering under an injury cloud. With Ivan Soldo in nice touch in the VFL, Round 9 seemed like a good chance to give the number one ruck option a week off.

    Given the quality of opposition coupled with an interstate journey, I would’ve liked to see Richmond make a few more rotations.

    Ryan Garthwaite is a premium defender, desperate for a chance in the big league after starring in the VFL, and it would’ve been a good chance to give him a run.

    Likewise, the combination of Jason Castagna and Dan Butler – both looking more and more worn as the season goes on – both would’ve been well served with a rest. A promotion for Tyson Stengle and another game in Jack Higgins would’ve been a good move.

    Jack Graham and Connor Menadue could’ve been another worthy exchange, with one deserving another crack at the top level while the other is in need of a spell.

    These are a lot of big selection suggestions but after an eight-goal loss on the road, they seem like good calls in hindsight.

    But winning momentum is important and keeping a solid unit cohesive is one key to success so it’s easy to see why they kept the bulk of the side together for the trip west.

    Richmond’s best on the day was Jack Reiwoldt and it was interesting reading the heat he was receiving from viewers on various livestreams and social media channels.

    Jack Riewoldt Richmond Tigers AFL Grand Final 2017

    Jack Riewoldt (Photo by Cameron Spencer/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    Reiwoldt finished with five goals, seven marks and three tackles and was an aerial threat all day. He showcased a flood of leadership as vice-captain on a day when the team’s other leaders struggled.

    Looking ahead, Richmond now has an ideal month to rebound from its second loss of the season.

    First comes St Kilda at the MCG, shooting for an AFL-wide record amount of wins at the home of football for any side consecutively – 13 in a row.

    Next are Essendon on the same deck, then the Power at Adelaide Oval, before heading home again to face Geelong.

    Richmond’s contender status is likely to remain in place in four rounds time – sitting at a probable 12 wins and two losses.

    West Coast have a trip to Etihad Stadium to face Hawthorn, back to Perth Stadium to host St Kilda, then off to the SCG and the patiently waiting Sydney Swans, before back to Western Australia to host Essendon.

    If West Coast can drain the self confidence they deserve from the weekend’s result, they may well remain on top of the ladder in this period of time, with 13 wins and one loss. But that sort of a stunning run of form is difficult in a competition as even as the national one in 2018.

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    The Crowd Says (16)

    • May 21st 2018 @ 11:53am
      Roger of Sydney said | May 21st 2018 @ 11:53am | ! Report

      Richmond are not half as good as the article would have you believe.

      Lets see how they go against the Swans who accounted for them quite well last year in Melbourne, Adelaide again and even Port and the Cats. If they played the Roo’s again I think the outcome would change. There are at least three teams I would put money on before Richmond to win the flag. WCE, Swans, Nth Melb

      • May 21st 2018 @ 3:07pm
        Milo said | May 21st 2018 @ 3:07pm | ! Report

        Not sure how NM gets in there. I wldnt be backing NM at the G against Richmond in finals this year. As for Sydeny, if quite well is by 9points after the Tigers tired in last qrtr coming off the bye. No excuses maybe but reason yes.

        No secret RFC has to be better interstate and still needs to play and beat most of Adelaide, Port, Geelong, GWS (away) to be a true contender.

        • Roar Pro

          May 21st 2018 @ 5:45pm
          Samuel Ord said | May 21st 2018 @ 5:45pm | ! Report

          Richmond defeated North Melbourne less than 10 days ago at Etihad Stadium. Sydney and West Coast will surely rival Richmond in the long run along with Adelaide but to include North Melbourne at this stage just doesn’t make any sense.

          I mean…Richmond literally just defeated them last week.

    • May 21st 2018 @ 12:19pm
      dbjm said | May 21st 2018 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

      You dont rest players for the biggest game of the year, you bring your best side regardless of the fact it is interstate. The reason the bye exists in a few weeks time is to give players a week off to recuperate.

      • Roar Pro

        May 21st 2018 @ 5:40pm
        Samuel Ord said | May 21st 2018 @ 5:40pm | ! Report

        How is a round nine between West Coast and Richmond in Perth “the biggest game of the year?” Surely you jest brother.

    • May 21st 2018 @ 3:29pm
      Harsh Truth Harry said | May 21st 2018 @ 3:29pm | ! Report

      We will see! Tigers two big tests this year away games against Crows and Eagles both resulted in massive thumpings. Seems they are on the way down again the Tigers and may have another 37 year wait ahead for next glory!

    • May 21st 2018 @ 3:44pm
      Bolt1493 said | May 21st 2018 @ 3:44pm | ! Report

      Richmond are going okay as are WCE. As an Eagles fan I am glad we are currently number 1 but I am certain no one is really too worried about winning the May Cup. Eagles have some very very nasty away games to come – Hawthorn & Pies at MCG, Swans @SCG, Adelaid @Adelaide Oval, Norths at Blundestone.

      • May 21st 2018 @ 3:54pm
        Luke said | May 21st 2018 @ 3:54pm | ! Report

        Hawthorn is at Etihad, not the MCG. Although the Eagles are probably wishing it was the MCG so they could get extra practice there. Blundstone vs North Melbourne will be a tough one.

    • May 21st 2018 @ 5:07pm
      Matto said | May 21st 2018 @ 5:07pm | ! Report

      “my beloved yellow-and-black battalion” yuck, shouldn’t this be on a tigers fan site?
      “Tiger time” is over. They haven’t beaten a team that made finals last year.
      Reiwoldt, the king of junk time goals, looked like he was going to cry when he squirmed his set shot early in the game.
      Martin was always going to enjoy vegas a bit too hard, no surprise he is getting beat every week.

      • Roar Pro

        May 21st 2018 @ 5:43pm
        Samuel Ord said | May 21st 2018 @ 5:43pm | ! Report

        Valid, it does come out a bit sickly sweet 24 hours later. Just wanted to make it clear heading in that I’m not neutral in this discussion in any way.

        Interesting point about Richmond going 0/2 against finalists from last season. Currently 2/4 against sides in the top eight and 5/5 against bottom ten sides.

        • May 22nd 2018 @ 2:04pm
          Matto said | May 22nd 2018 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

          Ah yeah fair enough to mention it.
          I agree no need for too much concern for Richmond, thanks to where the GF is played and as long as Martin can find some form at the pointy end.

    • May 21st 2018 @ 7:27pm
      PeteB said | May 21st 2018 @ 7:27pm | ! Report

      Yep….who cares if you lose the odd game interstate. Winning at the MCG is all that matters. WC could barely beat Carlton at the MCG so they’ve got no hope.

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