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11:17pm Mar 27, 2014

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Stop press: Tigers are stoppage kings

Peter Ryan  April 30, 2013 8:10 AM

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The Tigers are the AFL's defensive stoppage specialists

IT WON'T help the mood of Richmond fans to know the Tigers have conceded fewer scores from stoppages than any other team so far in 2013.

With three top-four teams among the best six teams in that category, the Tigers are genuine improvers.

But because the goal from Fremantle's Hayden Ballantyne on Friday night, kicked with less than two minutes remaining, cost the Tigers four points it's easy to think little has changed.  

In the 35 seconds that elapsed between Richmond's last goal and Fremantle's match-winner there were four stoppages. Fremantle won two and broke even in two.

In three of the four stoppages, Richmond allowed Fremantle ruckman Jonathon Griffin to go third man up. He therefore controlled where the ball went.

It's not easy to stop a third man up but sometimes it's essential.

The Tigers could not just apply a block. That is illegal, as St Kilda's Sam Gilbert found out late in the game in Wellington when he tried to stop the Swans' Shane Mumford from going third man up.

At the very least, someone had to body Griffin so he was contesting the ball in the air.

This would have stopped Griffin directing the ball far and wide of the ball-up like a volleyball set that puts teammates into space.

Even then Richmond was a bit stiff, as Griffin's tap from the first boundary throw-in hit the point post as three teammates chased it down.

A foot to the left and the Tigers would have had a kick out and a four-point lead.

Instead it faced another boundary throw-in with just the basics to follow and the dangerous space to fill.

"The dangerous space is where the ball is going to land or someone is going to run into," an assistant coach from an opposition club told AFL.com.au.

Unfortunately, when the ball came in after just six seconds there was the equivalent of a vacant lot to the left of the stoppage.

And Ballantyne, Lachie Neale, Michael Walters and Stephen Hill were being drawn to it like moths to light.

 
Desperate Fremantle players were hunting the ball and the Tigers players were assuming a reactive position. They had eyes on man and ball whereas Fremantle players only cared for the ball.

The fact Fremantle sat 15th on the scores from stoppages table this season was not in their minds.

At the foot of the ruck contest each Tiger had a man, which in the circumstances seemed logical.

However, it's not always necessary.

"One less in the congestion is not always a bad thing if there are lots of numbers there," the assistant coach said.

Good players such as Ballantyne, he said, like to take the ball into congestion so they can explode out of it into space, like a bag snatcher disappearing through a peak hour crowd.

Sometimes an opponent can sit off and fill the space and hope the congestion remains tight enough to give no-one a chance to build speed and create space.

It might mean your man kicks a goal but it also might mean saving someone else's man from breaking free.

The minimum requirement for the Tigers was to body their opponent. It is what experienced players do in such circumstances.

Brandon Ellis – who had played 79 per cent of just his 26th game – was matched up on Neale – who had played 70 per cent of his 13th game. Ellis loosely put his left arm across Neale.

Neale may have been fresher. It's hard to know.

Neale waited until the throw in was in the air and took off. Ellis looked up to see the ball and in a flash had lost contact with Neale. His arm was brushed aside like the ribbon at a triathlon finish line.

Ballantyne had torn in front of the contest (it's dangerous for defenders when forwards do that) with Bachar Houli – who had played 89 per cent of the game against Ballantyne's 81 per cent – desperate to stop the speedster.

With half a step on Ellis, Neale was able to create his second knock-on in 25 seconds to give Ballantyne the ball, who then kicked the goal on his non-preferred foot.

It was just the 17th goal the Tigers had conceded from 169 stoppages in five rounds.

Disappointing? Yes. Despairing? No.

Anyone remember Geelong conceding a stoppage goal at the death in the 2005 semi-final against the Sydney Swans?

Richmond keeps knocking on the door. Eventually it will break through.