THE NUMBER of free kicks paid for head high tackles plummeted during this year's JLT Community Series as the umpires applied a stricter interpretation of the rules.
With umpires instructed to call play on when the initial tackle is reasonable, there were 62 fewer free kicks paid for high tackles in the 27 JLT Community Series games played this pre-season – or 2.3 fewer free kicks per game – compared to the 2016 pre-season series.
With an expectation that tackling rates will increase in round one, AFL Head of Umpiring Peter Schwab cautioned against reading too much into the early numbers.
However he said he was pleased with the way the umpires and players had responded to the stricter interpretation.
"We were very good for calling play-on under the new interpretation," Schwab told AFL.com.au.
"We still instruct them to err on the side of paying the high tackle if they are in any doubt but the umpires were very good at knowing when the players shrugged or ducked and called play-on."
Rushed behinds also dropped as umpires vowed to pay more free kicks for deliberate rushed behinds. There were only 1.6 rushed behinds per game in this year's JLT Community Series compared to 4.3 behinds being rushed per game during 2016.
"They are not [rushing behinds] as much. There is no doubt about that," Schwab said.
Umpires appear to be cracking down on players holding their opponents during marking contests with an average of 1.4 more free kicks being paid per game for that infringement and ruckmen received more free kicks during ruck contests.
Schwab was uncertain why more free kicks had been paid at marking contests suggesting he would have a clearer picture after several rounds of the premiership season.
He suspected that banning the third man up at ruck contests may allow umpires to watch ruckmen more closely when they are contesting the ruck with umpires finding it easier to umpire stoppages.
Clearance rates from stoppages increased from 80.4 per cent of stoppages in the 2016 pre-season to 85.5 per cent in the 2017 pre-season as ruckmen have room to ply their craft.