AFL UMPIRES boss Wayne Campbell has defended two controversial decisions from the Richmond-West Coast match on Friday night, but concedes the new holding the ball interpretation for players leading with their heads is confusing.
The mid-season rule change has been brought in to prevent players causing themselves head or neck injuries when charging into opponents to win a high contact free kick.
But a decision against West Coast forward Mark LeCras in the second quarter at the MCG has created more confusion about the rule.
LeCras picked up the ball and was almost immediately wrapped up by Shaun Grigg, with a holding the ball free kick paid after it was deemed the Eagle led into the tackle with his head.
"We understand it's a tough one, we understand there's going to be some confusion with it," Campbell, the League's national umpiring director, told Channel 7.
"He has driven his head … into a stationary or near-stationary tackler. At that point, it's his prior opportunity. At that point it's not a free kick, he just needs to handball the ball."
Campbell conceded there was some grey area over the decision, but said umpires "need to go a little bit hard" to change player behaviour.
A separate incident where Richmond defender Alex Rance ducked his head into an oncoming Josh Kennedy tackle but was paid a high contact free kick was a flip of the coin decision, Campbell said.
"The umpire ruled that he dropped his knees, so bent his knees, that's not the new interpretation so the umpire thought that that was high contact," he said.
"I know you want a definitive answer, but it's a tough one."
Speaking after the game, Richmond coach Damien Hardwick came out in support of the hardline interpretations of players leading with their heads.
"There's going to be ones that are a little bit of grey, but I'd rather them err on the side of paying the free kick than not because I think it's something we're trying to discourage from lower levels," he said.
Eagles coach Adam Simpson hoped the confusion was just a teething problem.
"I think it's a real challenge for the umpires. I think there looks to be a little bit of confusion from everyone, players, umpires, coaches in particular," he said.
"I'm hoping it's just a teething thing and they'll work it out sooner or later, or the players sort of adapt. I just hope we don't change any more rules mid-stream."
Players going third-man up at ruck contests has also been hotly-debated, with more teams than ever before using the tactic.
Campbell admitted the controlling umpire made an incorrect decision by paying a free kick to Nic Naitanui – who wasn't deemed the Eagles' ruckman at the contest - in the first quarter when he was blocked from the ball by Troy Chaplin.
"It's an incorrect decision. Troy's allowed to do that. If he was the ruckman, you can't block the run like that," Campbell said.
"But essentially the … second jumper, is just a midfielder so you can stand in front of them."
Hardwick was slightly miffed at the call, but said he wasn't too concerned by players jumping over ruckmen at stoppages.
"I think it's one of those ones the AFL will monitor and see how it goes. But at this stage I think it's pretty well umpired," he said.
"Overall I don't think it has a huge impact on the game."