Richmond aren’t invincible. Here’s how to beat them in September

Ryan Buckland Columnist

By Ryan Buckland, Ryan Buckland is a Roar Expert

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    Sitting a game and a whack of percentage on top of the ladder, this month’s AFL meme de jour is Richmond has the premiership sewn up. Not so fast.

    The Tigers are sitting equal with a 1960s Melbourne team on the consecutive wins at a single venue streak table. Richmond has won their past 17 games played at the MCG, stretching back to a nine-point loss to Sydney in Round 13 2017.

    If we remove close losses – games decided by 12 points or less – the last time the Tigers were been ‘beaten’ was Round 18 2016 (a 70-point loss to Hawthorn). Richmond’s other losses at the venue since that defeat were four points (v Geelong, Round 21 2016), nine points (v St Kilda, Round 22 2016), two points (v Fremantle, Round 8 2017) and the aforementioned loss to Sydney.

    Suffice to say that is pretty great. Richmond play 14 to 17 games at the home of football every year, and as a club it knows how to make the most of it.

    So far this year, a simple home ground advantage calculation suggests Richmond has been a 29 point better side playing at the MCG than elsewhere in the league. It’s the biggest simple home ground calculation benefit for any home team in the league in 2018. And fortunately for Richmond, they have played 10 of their 15 games on the biggest ground in the league – and have four more to come.

    Jack Riewoldt

    The Tigers: sing when you’re winning (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

    And given the state of the ladder, there is a strong chance Richmond has two, three or four finals games coming at the venue too. But let’s not tread over that old ground.

    Ergo Richmond is in the box seat for this year’s premiership. That is before we consider its league-leading playing style, supremely talented top five (Shane Edwards is in here now), enviable depth and relatively healthy playing list (although this is less true now than it has been throughout the entirety of this current Richmond run).

    I might have played a small role in this view going mainstream – to the extent an obscure footy blogger can influence such things. In Round 7 I wrote a column that pondered one simple but significant question: Can anyone catch the runaway Richmond? At that point the Tigers were 6-1 with a percentage of 154.8 per cent. The knock on that take was Richmond hadn’t played anyone yet: Carlton, Adelaide, Hawthorn, Brisbane, Melbourne, Collingwood and Fremantle. It’s not a murderer’s row but that slate looks tougher now than it did then.

    Since that column Richmond has gone 6-2 with a percentage of 123.9 per cent – down from the quite extraordinary heights of the first third of the year, but still enough to see them well ensconced in the “second third” top four.

    Much of the Richmond is unbeatable narrative is centred on its performance at the ‘G. But there is also a sense that the Tigers are “so far” above the rest of the competition that it’s a wrap. The MCG dominance would appear to be true. But Richmond’s gap on the rest of the competition is smaller than you may think.

    To show this, we need to bring out a couple of old favourites: Offensive Efficiency Rating and Defensive Efficiency Rating (OER and DER). It’s been a while. These are two metrics which plot how a team is performing using points for and against, comparing it to the rest of the teams in the competition year. An OER or DER of above 10 is good, 20 is great, and 30 is all-time.

    So far in 2018, Richmond has put up an OER of +18.0 (ranked second, behind Melbourne on +26.1), and a DER of +14.4 (ranked second, behind Geelong on +15.6). Those are great numbers. But they haven’t reached the heights of the best teams of recent seasons.

    For instance, Adelaide achieved an OER of +22.7 in 2017. That was actually a little down on its 2016 OER of +27.2. Hawthorn was better on both OER in each of its premiership seasons (including a +29.1 mark in 2014), and its 2015 season saw a better DER than Richmond’s current mark (+18.3). Geelong had OER and DER’s of 20 or more in 2007, 2008 and 2011. In its 20-2 season, Collingwood put up an OER of +25.2 and a DER of +20.8.

    Indeed, the Tigers are only just tracking their DER from the 2017 season (+14.4); they have however sharply improved their ability to score after putting up an OER of just +1.2 last year.

    That’s a lot of numbers but you get the idea. Richmond is a very good team, but it has not ascended to the heights of the modern all-time great teams in a manner you may expect from all the talk floating around the place.

    In saying that, it is possible to win 22 games by one point each in a 22 game season. Winning is winning. Four points are four points and all that.

    While not as invincible as the takes might make you think, it is clear from its recent record that the Tigers have a game plan that is difficult to beat. You know it by now but it’s worth refreshing here. Territory matters above all else, and to get territory Richmond has a need for speed – both by ball movement and by leg speed. They trust their team mates to make the right call with the next possession, and they move instinctively when the ball is in their hands.

    Fancy Champion Data statistics would show the Tigers have one of the best time in forward half differentials in the league. Us mortals have inside 50 differential: at +8.8 per game it’s third in the league. It’s enabled by a league-leading forward press, enabled by the ball reading and high marking talents of its defensive set.

    While Richmond doesn’t have the best differential in the game, part of its strength is its ability to withstand opposition thrusts. Richmond’s opponents have scored on just 38.7 per cent of their inside 50 entries, the best mark in the league (for the Tigers).

    Having some of the best top end talent in the league – Dustin Martin, Alex Rance, Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt and Shane Edwards – complemented by high quality rotation players and uniquely skilled role players makes it all happen. Cam Rose’s “free the guns” column from the middle of the 2016 season still rings in my ears when my mind turns to the Tiges.

    It’s a business model that serves them well. But, it is vulnerable, as we’ve seen with Richmond’s three losses in 2018. It takes a special performance, as we’ll see below, but the Tigers are not unbeatable.

    For a bit of fun, I’ve built a Tiger Killer Algorithm: a purely statistical look at which of the teams remaining in finals contention has the best shot of beating Richmond at the MCG. It’s based on how each team performs in its wins versus how Richmond’s average opponent has performed when Richmond has lost.

    I’ve used what I think are five of the most representative statistics for Richmond’s performance in losses. These are (numbers in Richmond’s losses listed first, season long average for Richmond listed second):

    Uncontested possessions per minute of possession by opponent
    3.8 vs 4.6

    Tackle rate (tackles per 50 minutes of possession) of opponent
    71.2 vs 65.1

    Total kicks made by opponent
    240.3 vs 213.0

    Total contested possessions in game
    314.3 vs 291.0

    Time of possession (minutes) of opponent
    59.7 vs 50.2

    That profile suggests opponents are looking to clog Richmond’s space around the ball, disallowing their ability to get into open space and move quickly. It also suggests their opponents are adept at moving the ball quickly themselves, given time in possession is high but the number of uncontested possessions per minute is low.

    Jack Higgins

    We’re ranking teams based on how their statistical profile in wins tracks the above. To do this, I develop a ratio of their stats to Richmond’s loss stats, with a number above one indicating the club is “better” at this and below one “poorer”.

    Here are the results.

    Team UPMP TR K CPs ToP Score
    Port Adelaide 4.2 81.6 229.3 308.8 54.9 0.980
    Adelaide 4.1 75.5 234.9 309.0 55.0 0.972
    Essendon 4.0 65.3 226.4 284.4 59.9 0.941
    Melbourne 4.6 71.2 224.3 298.1 55.5 0.925
    Hawthorn 4.5 73.2 222.1 283.6 53.5 0.919
    Greater Western Sydney 4.7 70.3 231.1 290.4 54.0 0.918
    North Melbourne 4.4 74.6 210.3 284.1 52.6 0.915
    Geelong 4.4 69.7 217.9 291.3 53.5 0.912
    WCE 4.0 59.6 229.7 277.5 53.6 0.902
    Sydney 4.4 64.1 214.9 288.3 53.3 0.891
    Collingwood 5.5 71.4 223.3 286.3 48.4 0.869

    The Adelaide-based teams are the hope of the Richmond-loathing football public, according to this very cursory analysis. It is interesting to note Adelaide and Port Adelaide have doled out two of Richmond’s three losses in the season to date (the third coming at the hands of a pressure-heavy West Coast, playing a game completely different to the one they’ve built their season around).

    However it is also interesting to note both of Richmond’s losses came at the Adelaide Oval, and the Tigers wiped the floor with the Crows at the MCG last Friday night. Still, the numbers suggest these two play “the most like” a successful Richmond vanquisher week in week out than any other in the competition.

    The Crows are clinging to 2018 life, needing to win at least six and perhaps even seven of their remaining games to keep in the hunt. Still, this season has thrown up its share of craziness.

    Port Adelaide is a much safer bet, given they’re on a five game winning streak and sit fourth on the ladder. Their lone MCG game in 2018 was a 21 point win against Carlton; Port Adelaide has one game at the MCG to come, against Collingwood in Round 22 (can’t wait for that one already).

    On a more subjective basis, Port Adelaide’s Tiger Killer status makes sense. It has been playing a stoppage-heavy, high pressure brand of football this year, relying less on its aggressive forward press than over the past two seasons. It is a resource-intensive means to winning football games, the Power not quite reaching the heights of scoring potency I thought they had the means to in the preseason.

    West Coast is an interesting case, if only because the Eagles beat Richmond earlier in the year. As we discussed in May, West Coast has devised a scheme that sees them avoid the maelstrom and chaos that Richmond and other press-heavy teams crave, with outside run, kicking and marking their jam. They scored well on the ball movement, kicking and time in possession categories in the algorithm, but very low on both tackle rate and contested possession total – a signal of the way they like to win.

    Collingwood also seems like a strange outcome, but this to me is a sign of its tendency to handball rather than kick its way to victory. That’s fine, but Richmond’s pressure will create plenty of turnovers (Collingwood had 84 turnovers in its Round Six loss to Richmond, 11 above its season average).

    Is it Port Adelaide or bust? Not quite. Richmond, and its quite extraordinary streak of wins at the MCG might make them seem invincible. History says however the Tigers haven’t quite reached the heights of the best teams of recent years. They might have another level in them; they might play a style that makes them near-impossible to beat; they might just be on a streak of good fortune.

    Whatever it is, the season is far from over and this year’s premiership is far from decided – even if Richmond is a deserved favourite to win it all.

    Ryan Buckland
    Ryan Buckland

    As an economist, Ryan seeks to fix the world's economic troubles one graph at a time. As a sports fan, he's always looking one or two layers beneath the surface to search for meaning, on and off the field. You can follow Ryan here.

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    The Crowd Says (62)

    • July 12th 2018 @ 7:19am
      Reservoir Animal said | July 12th 2018 @ 7:19am | ! Report

      Helping Richmond is the fact that the whingers outside Victoria seem to have already decided a Grand Final at the MCG would be unwinnable, although some of them aren’t openly admitting it. They forget that in 2012, 2003, 2002, 2001, 1998, 1997, 1994 and 1992, a non-Victorian team won an MCG Grand Final against a Victorian opponent who knew the ground much better than them, often in cases where the Victorian team had also finished much higher than them.

      Don Pyke, Ken Hinkley and Adam Simpson (I assume John Longmire knows better) should contact Mick Malthouse, Malcolm Blight, Leigh Matthews and (if he agrees to speak) John Longmire for advice on this. It really isn’t that hard.

      • July 12th 2018 @ 10:37am
        IAP said | July 12th 2018 @ 10:37am | ! Report

        They’re certainly convinced of it on this site. They never let up about it. On and on and on they go.

      • Roar Guru

        July 12th 2018 @ 11:44am
        Dalgety Carrington said | July 12th 2018 @ 11:44am | ! Report

        You do realise that footy clubs and their fans are actually not the exact same thing?

      • July 12th 2018 @ 12:02pm
        fairsuckofthesav said | July 12th 2018 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

        It is generally acknowledged that Richmond have a huge home ground advantage and which continues into the finals. Interstate teams barely touch the surface of the MCG before having to play a final there. These are simple facts and sounds to me like the ‘whinging’ is coming from your good self. It is all the more laudable that interstate teams have won against Victorian Opponents. But you simply can’t compare the Crows wins against the Saints in 97 or North Melbourne in ’98 against the loss to the Tigers in ’17. The latter was won by a MCG tenant with 70,000 people cheering them on even though they finished beneath the Crows. It is simply inequitable that the highest ranked team has to play the GF, interstate at the opposition’s home ground. Under your logic you would been happy for the Tigers to play the West Coast in a GF in Perth this year even if the Tigers finish above them? But to voice opposition to this would be whinging now wouldn’t it?

        • July 12th 2018 @ 1:10pm
          Reservoir Animal said | July 12th 2018 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

          Unless the other teams are also willing to admit that certain inequalities of the competition actually favour them, then of course it is just one-sided whinging.

          Will we ever hear West Coast admit that their club scores better home-town favours form umpires than any other side? Or will we hear Sydney admit that COLA gave them an unfair advantage?

          • July 12th 2018 @ 7:16pm
            Pelican said | July 12th 2018 @ 7:16pm | ! Report

            Port and Hinkley have no problem with the MCG. They have said many times they want more games there.

          • July 13th 2018 @ 10:15am
            Lroy said | July 13th 2018 @ 10:15am | ! Report

            ”Will we ever hear West Coast admit that their club scores better home-town favours form umpires than any other side? ”

            Probably never because its simply not true!!

            Victorian teams get more free kicks home and away than non Victorian teams when playing those non Victorian teams , its a statistical fact.

            The reason is the subconscious bias of Victorian umpires!!!

            Can anyone seriously deny that Sydney weren’t on the receiving end of one of the most disgraceful umpiring performances ever seen the day they lost to the Dogs?? Crikey, I don’t have much love for the Swans, but even I could see they got the rough end of the pineapple that day.

            Early on last year the Crows didn’t get a number of frees they should have. Give them another 3 goals at half time its a completely different game.

            Subconscious bias of Victorian umpires is a real thing that needs to be addressed, that’s why they need neutral refs on the big day. If its a WA-Vic teams, you have a panel of South Australians, and ditto if its a SA-Vic game, a bunch of Sandgropers will get the job.

            The AFL is the only sport I can think of where they don’t acknowledge the influence of referees over the result, rugby, soccer, they all have neutral refs for the big games.

            • July 13th 2018 @ 11:11am
              Reservoir Animal said | July 13th 2018 @ 11:11am | ! Report

              West Coast’s home-game free kick ratio this year: For=202, Against=135.

              In four of their 8 home games they’ve received twice the number of free kicks as their opposition.

              Name me one Victorian team with such generous figures.

            • July 13th 2018 @ 11:13am
              Jack said | July 13th 2018 @ 11:13am | ! Report

              You obviously didn’t see the free kick differential ladder released a month or so ago, if you want to talk statistical facts maybe look at the statistics first. West coast are on top of the free kick ladder of the last 15 years at +919, the nearest placed team in second was North Melbourne on +472. That is a huge difference. Hawthorn and Sydney both on -300 or more. So I would almost think that data shows that it is objectively true that west coast receives the most home ground bias from umpires.

            • July 13th 2018 @ 11:20am
              Jack said | July 13th 2018 @ 11:20am | ! Report

              What about the ladder for free kick differential over the last 15 years.
              1st – West coast +919
              2nd North Melb +472….

              Yeah a statistical fact there is no clear advantage there.

      • Roar Pro

        July 12th 2018 @ 2:50pm
        anon said | July 12th 2018 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

        If what you’re implying is that there’s no real home ground advantage for a Victorian team playing an interstate team at the MCG, why don’t we start automatically awarding home prelims to the interstate team?

      • July 12th 2018 @ 6:41pm
        Gyfox said | July 12th 2018 @ 6:41pm | ! Report

        I don’t remember Ken Hinkley complaining about the GF being at the MCG

    • Roar Guru

      July 12th 2018 @ 8:11am
      Peter the Scribe said | July 12th 2018 @ 8:11am | ! Report

      Was it really just Round 8 2017 Fremantle beat the Tigers at the G? Wow. They wouldn’t get within 7 goals now at the G and neither will anyone else………..unless injuries really start to bite. IMO that is the Tigers only vulnerability. You need to be 7 goals ahead of them at the G at 3/4 time and they don’t let that happen either.

      • July 14th 2018 @ 2:46am
        Pumping Dougie said | July 14th 2018 @ 2:46am | ! Report

        If injuries even up between Richmond and other side, then I suspect there is very little difference between many sides contesting finals this year.

        If you take Rance, Cotchin, Dusty or Riewoldt out of Richmonds side, they are in real trouble. They’ve had a phenomenal run of good fortune (and good management) in this regard. Most other teams have had to compete without guns in their side.

        You put fit players like Toby Greene, Tom Scully, Brad Crouch, Brodie Smith, Josh Kennedy, Dan Hannebery, Callum Mills, Jamie Elliott, Jake Lever, Hamish Hartlett, Ben McEvoy back into their respective sides and they automatically become more formidable. Richmond have had a few short term injuries to ok players this season but not much. Geelong have also enjoyed a dream injury run the last two season. It plays a big part in a team’s success.

    • July 12th 2018 @ 8:22am
      Milo said | July 12th 2018 @ 8:22am | ! Report

      Thanks Ryan
      Think H&A 17 games is a bit generous at the MCG. We generally play 11-14 depending on games against co-tenants. If you count finals then last year i think we played 11 H&A and 3 finals.

      The 1960s Melb team is actually the 1955-56 Melbourne team.

      Apart from that, RFC is no lock to win the flag or even play GF. Most tiger fans know that but are enjoying the ride.

      • Roar Guru

        July 12th 2018 @ 8:53am
        Cat said | July 12th 2018 @ 8:53am | ! Report

        A bit? That’s the understatement of the year. Look at it this way:

        – 11 home games. 10 at the MCG and 1 at Etihad (All Melbourne teams do).

        That means of your ‘away‘ games 7 of them are at the MCG!

        Its patently obvious the AFL has compromised the fairness of the fixture to try and get bigger attendance numbers.

        • July 12th 2018 @ 9:35am
          Peter said | July 12th 2018 @ 9:35am | ! Report

          Woooooosh! straight over your head. They were saying that Tiges don’t play 17 games at the ‘g. The play 11-14.

        • July 12th 2018 @ 9:37am
          Peter said | July 12th 2018 @ 9:37am | ! Report

          I’m guessing you only read the first sentence and missed the entire context of that sentence.

    • July 12th 2018 @ 8:45am
      Reservoir Animal said | July 12th 2018 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      Richmond’s cause is helped by the fact that their non-Victorian rivals are too busy whinging to themselves about the choice of Grand Final venue, although they mightn’t do so publicly until after the match. What their rivals forget is that in 1992, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2012, a non-Victorian team won an MCG Grand Final against a Victorian opponent that knew the ground better than them and which, in many cases, had finished above them on the ladder.

      Ken Hinkley, Adam Simpson, Leon Cameron and Don Pyke would be well-advised to contact Leigh Matthews, Malcolm Blight or Mick Malthouse for advice. I’ll leave John Longmire out for now as it’s assumed he has a slight knowledge of things and prefers to keep it to himself.

      • July 12th 2018 @ 7:26pm
        Pelican said | July 12th 2018 @ 7:26pm | ! Report

        There is no truth in your statement re Ken Hinkley. He loves to play at the G. Always says it to. Has asked for more games there.

      • July 13th 2018 @ 10:22am
        Lroy said | July 13th 2018 @ 10:22am | ! Report

        Suggest you list the games they’ve lost as well, Eagles have lost as many as they have won.

        If you remove the Lions who are a statistical anomaly (Ive explained why previously) then the record is shocking for interstate sides against Victorian opposition.

        Home ground goes a long way to explaining it as does umpire bias.

        No amount of Victorian patronizing is going to change that.

        • July 13th 2018 @ 11:17am
          Reservoir Animal said | July 13th 2018 @ 11:17am | ! Report

          Until 2013, the only such losses were 1991 and 1996, and both of those involved teams with no Grand Final experience against a much more seasoned opponent. At the end of 2012 it was 8-2 in favour of the away team.

          Away-team disadvantage in Grand Finals is a very modern phenomenon and is most likely a reflection of comparatively inadequate preparation capabilities by the relevant clubs. It’s meant to be one of life’s golden rules that you get what you work for and not what you whinge for.

    • Roar Guru

      July 12th 2018 @ 8:49am
      Peter the Scribe said | July 12th 2018 @ 8:49am | ! Report

      Richmond quarters won in 2018

      1st = 11 of 15 (ranked 1st)
      2nd = 11 of 15 (ranked 1st)
      3rd = 6 of 15 (ranked 12th)
      4th = 12 of 15 (ranked 1st)

      Richmond go out hard in the first half then seem to go into scoreboard protection/energy conservation mode in third quarters allowing them to run over sides in the last. It is such a stark difference to their other quarters it must be a preordained strategy. I wonder what their average stoppages are in third quarters compared to the others. That would be one way of reducing the amount they have to transition run in the third, increase stoppage. In the meantime their mosquito fleet all get to have a handy rest before they head to the break at 3/4 time and come out and overrun any other side in the last.

      You can see it in quarters won above.
      They sit down with the lowly sides like Carlton, Fremantle and Brisbane for third quarters won having only won 6 in 15 rounds.

      Perhaps the key to unraveling the Tigers is to be found in a closer inspection of why they have a rest in the third.

    • July 12th 2018 @ 10:41am
      Tim said | July 12th 2018 @ 10:41am | ! Report

      The way to beat Richmond is to play 4 quarters of football and don’t wilt under their pressure. er isn’t that finals footy.

      They needed Riewolt to have the best game of his career to beat Sydney. Imagine Buddy doing that. Swans by 30+ anyone.

      • July 12th 2018 @ 12:45pm
        Neil from Warrandyte said | July 12th 2018 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

        Yeah imagine if Sydney hadn’t converted the most accurately ever in the history of the club (11:1:67) and Richmond had. Tigers by 100+

      • July 12th 2018 @ 12:45pm
        RichieTiger said | July 12th 2018 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

        I think you are only half right. No doubt Richmond played very well to win but the scoreboard flattered Sydney in the end.

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