How Richmond’s defence broke down against Hawthorn

There were signs of this last week. Collingwood jumped out in the first quarter and while it was playing well, in large parts it was assisted by some surprisingly lax Richmond defending.

The ship was straightened by about halfway through the second quarter, the game tightened up and much was forgotten.

This time there’d be no reprieve. Hawthorn brutally exposed what happens when Richmond is off its game totally, so surprising to watch given how rare it has been over the last three to four years. What we’ll try to do here is explain the main areas which broke down and led to the 32-point margin.

A couple of housekeeping points before we continue – this is purely a Richmond-focused post which means all the good done by Hawthorn won’t be included, largely because there are only so many hours in the day. For Hawks content and how their pressure forced changes in Tiger ball movement, stay tuned for the Notebook piece on Monday night. If you missed that concept and the Round 2 edition, you can catch up here.

And as usual, you can subscribe to The Shinboner via email on your right (on desktop) or below this post (on mobile). If you’re on Twitter you can follow me @rickm18 and to share this post on social media, you can use any of the buttons at the bottom of this post.

Around The Ball, Exhibit A

From a Richmond perspective, Thursday night’s theme was reliable methods breaking down horrifically.

Even when play set up in a favourable situation, Hawthorn was still able to have its way far too easily. It’s likely what prompted Damien Hardwick to say ‘a lot of the things that we’re not executing are in our control’ during his post-match press conference.

It started right from the outset – the first kickout of the game to be exact. James Sicily was forced into a long, high ball; exactly what the Tigers thrive on. From this situation, they normally get numbers to the drop, control the ground ball and dictate terms:

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Here, they’re slow to arrive and Hawthorn players have all the prime positions. It’s simple, bread and butter type actions which were sorely missing.

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That’s all it takes for Hawthorn to get out back, combined with some clever work from Shaun Burgoyne (hanging back from the pack), Tom Scully (drawing Dylan Grimes away from the intended forward 50 target) and Jack Gunston (opposite side of the ground to the kickout) to provide further options and complete the move.

Around The Ball, Exhibit B

Luke Breust, closing in on 400 career goals and 10 years after his debut, is well established as a rather dangerous forward.

In this play, Hawthorn has earned a 50-metre penalty and decide to pump it long inside 50 – far from a quick passage.

As O’Brien is about to be spoiled, here’s Breust cruising into the most dangerous space with barely an eye on him, let alone an opponent.

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Behind the goals vision (!!) takes it to another level. To an extent it’d be understandable if a rookie was allowed that space, perhaps thinking he isn’t at the stage worthy of respecting. But this is Luke Breust, a player who’s kicked 30+ goals in each of the last nine years.

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Failure To Execute, Exhibit A

When applying pressure, Richmond – like most sides – aims to squeeze in like a boa constrictor, forcing progressively less and less space to work in until there’s either a stoppage or turnover.

The Tigers have done it so flawlessly in recent times it’s easy to forget how difficult it can be to pull off. All it takes is the slightest miscue with effort and positioning and suddenly things look shambolic.

Using Jaeger O’Meara’s goal in the first quarter as an example, as the ball is punched forward everything looks relatively in order:

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Then, in the blink of an eye – because Richmond players are slow to react and Hawthorn is the exact opposite – the whole defensive structure falls apart. To be able to constrict, the Tigers need to be close enough to apply pressure in the first place:

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One easy handball and O’Meara has plenty of time to bang it on the boot and snap truly.

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It all happens in the blink of an eye, but this type of defending is normally second nature for Richmond.

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Failure To Execute, Exhibit B

The most egregious example came from Hawthorn’s penultimate goal of the evening. Forced deep into a back pocket, Ollie Hanrahan attempts the risky in-board kick. Although Burgoyne wins the one-on-one contest – because he’s Shaun Burgoyne, what else were you expecting? – it’s still open play in a dangerous area close to Richmond’s goal, normally the sort of situation the Tigers thrive on.

Instead Burgoyne can turn, wheel away and be met with … not a lot in terms of defensive resistance.

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It’s hard to overstate how stunning that image is. It’s more likely to be seen in a young, bottom-four team still learning the ropes, but this is Richmond. Over the last three years, we’ve seen an opponent gather on half back, instantly be swarmed and turn it over for a simple Tigers goal. Instead, this:

Richmond being off in its basic areas for so long – in its favourite conditions no less – is such an anomaly there shouldn’t be panic stations yet.

Although as we’ve covered at length in previous posts on this blog, there is a method for how to beat Richmond. Normally it hasn’t mattered because Richmond’s been too good and thwarted all comers.

But if this defensive slippage continues, even slightly, oppositions come into matches with renewed confidence and it’ll be harder for Richmond to wear down sides to the point of helplessness as it’s so accustomed to. Then suddenly the top of the league is wide open.

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