Is it Aussie rules, rugby, or a rodeo show?
Fremantle coach Ross Lyon isn’t sure what to make of AFL games anymore, and he is putting the blame squarely on umpires.
Lyon says he doesn’t know what constitutes a free kick nowadays, saying matches are more congested than ever before because umpires are letting the game go.
The veteran coach reckons stoppages have become such a mad scramble, his players may as well wear saddles to cope with the situation.
“People are being being ridden and jumped on by two or three (players), and the ball can’t get out,” Lyon said on Wednesday.
“They’ll blow for the ball-up, but they’re not paying the obvious free kicks. Hence the term the rolling maul. I know there’s been a lot of, ‘we’ll let it go, it’s all great’. But it just gets a bit confusing.
To be honest, I don’t know what a free kick is or isn’t anymore.
“Clearly there’s been a philosophical (shift) and different methodology applied from the coach of the umpires to the umpires.”
Lyon’s comments follow a campaign by Richmond great and former rules committee member Kevin Bartlett to reduce congestion by further restricting interchanges, or returning to the system that does not allow players back on to the ground once they are taken off.
Similar concerns have been expressed by former greats Leigh Matthews, Kevin Sheedy and Garry Lyon. Various solutions have been suggested, including reducing the number of players on the ground, restricting them to various zones at certain stages of the game, or paying a mark only for kicks that travel 20 metres.
The number of stoppages per game is averaging almost 66 this season, an all-time record, compared with fewer than 50 a decade ago.
Sports writer Charles Happell made an impassioned plea in The New Daily recently, calling on umpires to bring back the whistle and warning that the game was turning into an eyesore.
We’re still feeling our way in the season. Just let the game evolve for a little while.
Lyon said the other area in the game in which umpires had put away the whistle was in relations to the chopping of the arms of forwards. “To be honest, I don’t know what a free kick is or isn’t anymore,” he said.
Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson called for calm, saying it was too early in the season to jump to conclusions about the state of the game.
“If we go back to round three, four, five of every season, we have these types of debates about the game and how it’s evolving,” Clarkson said.
“We’re still feeling our way in the season and what’s going on, what trends are happening, and how different teams are playing. Just let the game evolve for a little while.”
Mark Evans, the AFL’s manager of football operations, said the laws of the game committee would pick up any issues because they were the greatest debating table going around.
“The fans tell us they like the game to be tough and contested and they like exciting passages of play,” Evans said. “As long as our game produces those things, it will be in a good state.”
We had 83,000 on Monday. We’re going to have 95,000 on Friday. That’s the NRL’s weekly average covered in two games.
Lyon said penalties for head-high contact had also become confusing.
In the AFL’s bid to reduce head injuries, players who opt to tackle instead of bump will now be held responsible for any head-high contact, even if it’s accidental.
“I think the concern is you can bump to the head, but if you don’t injure someone, you’re OK,” Lyon said.
“It clearly needs to be tidied up more.”
Although crowds have been down over the opening five rounds, Collingwood president Eddie McGuire said the hype surrounding last Monday’s Hawthorn-Geelong clash and the upcoming Essendon-Collingwood blockbuster proved the game was in good shape.
“Everyone just needs to take a Bex,” McGuire said. “We had 83,000 on Monday. We’re going to have 95,000 on Friday. That’s the NRL’s weekly average covered in two games.”