THE AFL is cracking down on players who duck into opponents to draw high contact under new rules to be introduced in 2014.
The AFL has also announced that a player who initiates a bump will be cited for rough conduct if he clashes heads with his opponent as it places further emphasis on protecting players from head and lower leg injuries.
New limit on runners during games
The AFL Commission approved a raft of changes on Tuesday for season 2014 after hearing recommendations from the AFL Laws Committee.
These changes applied to:
- Head clashes involving bumps.
- Players leading with their head to initiate contact.
- Forceful contact below the knees.
- The use of strength in marking contests.
- Reducing the number of runners from two to one.
- Automatic penalty for being in the protected area.
- Use of the interchange.
The high contact rule aims to discourage players from seeking forceful high contact.
A player who drives his head into a stationary or near stationary player will be regarded as having had prior opportunity. If he is then tackled he will have to dispose of the ball properly to not be penalised.
If a player ducks into a tackle and that action causes high contact to occur the umpire will call play on.
Changes have also been made to the head clash rule which will state that a player bumping should reasonably foresee a head clash occurring if the bump is incorrectly applied.
Under the new rule an incident similar to the one involving North Melbourne's Lindsay Thomas and Collingwood's Ben Reid in round one this year would see Thomas charged with rough conduct.
A free kick would also be paid against Thomas if that case was repeated.
AFL operations manager Mark Evans said keeping the game both exciting and safe was the objective of the rulemakers. He consulted widely before presenting the recommendations to the AFL Commission.
"From our research, the number one guiding principle for fans is that the game should remain a physically tough and contested game with body contact, however nearly three quarters of fans agree that player welfare should be at the heart of the laws," Evans said.
The AFL Commission also backed strengthening the rule halting forceful contact below the knees. A free kick will now be paid if a player either makes forceful contact below the knees or acts in a manner likely to cause serious injury, even if contact does not occur.
That means reckless action will be penalised even if the opponent avoids that action by sidestepping or leaping over the opponent.
Players who show strength in the marking contest will also be protected with the inclusion of the word unduly meaning free kicks only paid against a player who "unduly pushes, bumps, blocks or holds…" in a marking contest.
Evans said consultation showed "strong support for marking players to be allowed the opportunity to use their body when protecting their position in the marking contest and allowing the controlling umpire the discretion to determine whether the force imparted by players within a marking contest is excessive and warrants a free kick."
Players are expected to still legitimately attempt to mark the ball.
The Commission also approved changes flagged previously:
- Umpires now have the discretion to determine whether players in the protected area have delayed or impacted the player in possession rather than automatically awarding a 50m penalty against a player who raises his hands in the air when in the protected area.
- A common sense approach will be taken to interchange infringements however players or teams who deliberately delay their entry to the field via the interchange may be subject to financial sanctions
- The interchange will be capped at 120 per team per game.
- Runners will be restricted from two to one runner per club and the number of trainers allowed to enter the field will be reduced from six to four, with a fifth trainer only allowed to enter the field for stretcher incidents.
The final change is sure to raise the ire of both players and coaches.
The AFL Laws of the Game committee consists of Evans, Kevin Bartlett, Joel Bowden, Brett Burton, Rodney Eade, Tom Harley, Leigh Matthews, Michael Sexton and Beau Waters.
Pie Ben Reid after his head clash with Lindsay Thomas in round one. Picture: AFL Media.