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IRS rule changes to help the big men fly

Key position players are likely to benefit from rules changes in place for November's International Rules Series - ${keywords}
Key position players are likely to benefit from rules changes in place for November's International Rules Series

THIS year's International Rules Series will be played under new rules designed to reduce Ireland's recent dominance by allowing AFL key-position players to have more of an impact in the hybrid game.

AFL football operations manager Mark Evans told AFL.com.au on Monday that the League and Gaelic Athletic Association had agreed on four rule changes for this year's Test at Patersons Stadium on Saturday, November 22.

Evans said the major change was a new rule requiring goalkeepers to kick out over the 45m line after every over, behind and wide.

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"We've worked really hard with the GAA to try and identify ways to improve the game and the contest, and in particular to try and find increased roles for key-position players of the AFL," Evans said.

"After looking at a few things we've settled on the kick-in rule as being an opportunity to create more aerial contests that will allow key-position players to get involved."

Under the other rule changes:

•      The number of consecutive handballs teams are allowed will be increased from four to six.

•      Interchange rotations will be increased from 10 to 15 a quarter (teams will still be allowed to make unlimited changes at quarter-time, half-time and three-quarter time).

•      A mark will no longer be paid from a backwards kick.

"We felt that the Irish players certainly have an advantage with kicking the round ball and the Australian team has in recent years in particular struggled to be pinpoint with that," Evans said.

"Allowing more consecutive handpasses in one chain should help to address that.

"With the backwards kick rule, we're trying to encourage forward ball movement, so again we're hoping that might see balls being kicked deeper and higher into the forward line to promote contested marking.

"Allowing more interchanges was more a recognition that our playing group will be just coming back from annual leave when this year's Test is played, so this will help the Australian coaching staff manage them appropriately throughout the game."

In the previous two IRS series, Australia fielded undermanned teams that lost by record margins.

In 2011, the squad captained by Brad Green lost by a combined 65 points, while last year the all-indigenous team that travelled to Ireland was even more comprehensively defeated, losing by 101 points.

In the aftermath of last year's series, the AFL and GAA agreed that the IRS's future depended on both countries being able to field full-strength teams.

In April, Evans announced that this year's Australian team would be compromised exclusively of All Australian players, with stars such as Patrick Dangerfield, Luke Hodge, Nic Naitanui, Scott Pendlebury, Nick Riewoldt and Joel Selwood already committed to playing.

Evans said the rule changes were another step to ensuring this year's contest would be far more even.

"The good thing is that the game itself has remained mostly untouched for a period of time, but there's also been a common sense approach to tweaking some of the rules to promote a better contest," he said.