2019 Finals Dossier: Richmond

In the lead up to the 2019 finals series, I’ll be highlighting each team’s style of play. How they move the ball, how they defend, their strengths, weaknesses, and much more. And yes, just to get the obvious out of the way; this is primarily a North Melbourne site – I have nowhere else to put this and it doesn’t affect the analysis. Next up is Richmond.

It’s been a fascinating season for Richmond. On the surface, it appeared their extensive injuries up until the bye would cruel any chances of a premiership tilt.

But the underlying system was still working – it was just a lack of personnel stopping the Tigers from playing it across four quarters.

Once the injuries subsided, and with extra games pumped into the Tom Lynch-Jack Riewoldt partnership, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that the Tigers reeled off their string of consecutive wins.

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How Richmond’s defence and attack work hand in hand

Richmond are primarily a turnover and territory side, which means they rely on their outstanding defence to create opportunities to score.

They won’t necessarily cut you to pieces with ball use in the same way West Coast do, or methodically defend and grind away like a Geelong. What the Tigers will do is squeeze their opposition like a boa constrictor and make it near impossible to move the ball.

The pressure forces turnovers in dangerous areas of the ground and when Richmond are on, it shows in two ways – forcing turnovers in their forward half, and not allowing a side to transition from defensive 50 to attacking 50.

It’s done through Richmond’s layer of pressure around the ball. This is the layer which is easiest to spot on TV either when the ball is in dispute, or just after when the opposition has taken possession. It then allows the defensive group to set up well behind the ball, effectively building a wall.

When Richmond are defending, the layer of pressure around the ball has three aims. In order of importance:

1: Force a turnover as quickly as possible
2: If a turnover can’t be forced, push the ball back and into a corner for a stoppage
3: If there is no turnover or stoppage, rush the opposition possession as much as possible

Only the top-level teams, in top-level form, can move it consistently well against this setup. Think Collingwood in Round 2, or West Coast’s first quarter in Round 22.

It’s go-go-go, repeatedly presenting the opposition with a bad choice and a worse choice. Think of it like this:

  • Players on the ball have to figure out a way to stop a tsunami of yellow and black
  • The defenders behind the ball are normally stuck one-on-one with no help coming
  • The midfielders streaming through the centre often have time and space to pick out their target
  • The defensive group has to try and predict where the incoming kick will be headed, given there are multiple options for where it can go
  • Peeling off one opponent will then almost certainly lead to another being in an even better position to impact on play

And all of this has to be figured out as quick as a click of your fingers. Good luck.

While Lynch was resting during the above play, his addition has allowed Richmond to be even less predictable going forward; as if a swarm of players running at you isn’t hard enough to defend.

It’s noticeable how much space Lynch and Riewoldt keep between each other. Sometimes sides with multiple key position targets opt to bunch them together to force packs and get the ball to ground.

Richmond go the opposite way. Often one tall – usually Lynch – will be as close to directly in line with the play as the situation allows.

The other tall – usually Riewoldt – will stay on the ‘fat’ side of the ground, well away from Lynch but still in an attacking area. An example:

Richmond 1

When Richmond are streaming forward, this setup makes it next to impossible for one defender to help out the other, while also adding an extra option for the Tigers’ inside 50 entries.

Explaining the second layer of defence

As touched on, the first layer of defence around the ball drives a lot of play for Richmond.

However, their second layer – a kick or two behind the play with their marking defenders – is just as important.

The Tigers look to play an extra defender as much as possible. They alternate between using him as essentially a goalkeeper, as someone who gets forward to create overlap – as we saw in the clip above – or occasionally both at once depending on the state of the game.

That method isn’t necessarily unique, but what helps it work is Richmond’s on-ball pressure. When they’re applying it to the level we’ve seen for much of the last three years, it forces opposition into rushed high balls.

And opponents would be able to get away with it against most teams – just not with Richmond.

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If you missed the first three dossiers, you can find them at the links below. One more team to go:

Sunday: West Coast
Monday: Geelong
Tuesday: Collingwood
Thursday: Brisbane

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If the Tigers had only a middling defensive unit, teams would be comfortable throwing it on the boot and backing their forwards to win their direct contests.

But Dylan Grimes, David Astbury and Nick Vlastuin don’t concede easily. Once Bachar Houli and Nathan Broad are added to the mix there are five defenders working together as an aerial vacuum.

It’s a simple theory: pressure on ball, force opponent into high rushed kick for either an intercept mark or stoppage, reset and go again.

How to beat Richmond

Richmond thrive on chaos. The more there is, the better they play – it’s why they’re so good in the wet.

So naturally, the best way to beat them is to take the chaos away. It’s much easier said than done, but there are examples of how to do so.

Because Richmond aren’t a top tier contested ball and clearance side, there’s an opportunity to gain first possession if the midfield is good enough.

Normally that’s the cue for the Tigers’ pressure to ramp up and force the turnover. But if you’re good enough to go around or over it – or find a quick mark – you control the tempo.

Collingwood’s win in Round 2 ticked both those boxes in a manner we’ve rarely seen before.

In addition to handily winning the contested count by 24, the Pies had 99 uncontested marks in the first half and finished with 159 for the match.

Most importantly, those uncontested marks were accompanied by incisive ball movement. In this example, with just six kicks, Collingwood go side to side and end to end. Well, almost…

Now for the explanation of why I’d go to the trouble of finding a clip which ends in an out of bounds on the full.

The whole point of kick-mark against Richmond is to remove chaos. Even though Collingwood coughed up possession because of Phillips’ clanger, they did so in an area on the field which couldn’t hurt them.

Richmond may have the ball, but it’s deep in their back pocket after play has stopped and there’s no chance of a fast transition from there.

The ball doesn’t come out of Collingwood’s forward half until Josh Thomas goals a minute later.

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