Sport AFL unveils rule changes to combat defensive play

AFL unveils rule changes to combat defensive play

Richmond's Dustin Martin shakes off Geelong’s Jake Kolodjashnij in the AFL grand final at the Gabba on October 24. Photo: AAP
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The AFL will strongly consider mandating at least three players from each team be stationed inside both 50-metre arcs at all stoppages in a bid to combat defensive structures.

The rule will be trialled in the new VFL and East Coast second-tier competition next year, with an eye towards introducing it at the elite level for 2022.

The innovation comes as the AFL on Wednesday announced three rule tweaks for the 2021 season designed to facilitate more attacking play and lead to higher scoring.

As expected, there will be a further reduction in interchange rotations to a maximum of 75 per team, down from 90 last season.

Players standing the mark will only be allowed “minimal” lateral movement, and the location of the mark at kick-ins will be set at 15 metres from the centre of the kick-off line.

It was previously set at 10 metres.

“The evolution of the game has seen an increase in defensive structures and these changes combined are designed to provide a better balance between attack and defence while encouraging more open ball movement,” AFL football operations manager Steve Hocking said.

“We have some of the most skilful athletes in the world, and the three changes are designed to reduce the defensive capability of teams and open up the game, providing an opportunity for players to have more freedom to play on instinct and show off their natural flair.

“Our game is in good shape but we all want more of what makes our game great and while there are always great moments of brilliance in the AFL, these changes aim to increase those moments and provide more opportunities for players to showcase their talents and ultimately give supporters more of what they love.”

Hocking said the AFL had not considered reducing the number of players on the field to create more space.

He believes the rule being tested in the VFL and East Coast competition will have that effect by spreading players out across the ground.

It is also expected that fewer interchange rotations will lead to more player fatigue and result in fewer players being able to get to stoppages, thus limiting congestion.

The cap on rotations could come down even further in future seasons but was only reduced by 15 for next year so as not to put players under too much stress.

“We felt that was that right level and it’s incremental change, so we’ll remain open as to what the future looks like beyond 2021,” Hocking said.

-AAP