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Round 7 v Richmond: Good theory, bad timing

“It’s unrealistic to expect all that (movement, change of directions, smart decisions and support running) every single time a team goes forward – long towards the line can and does work if it’s done the right way.”

The above is from Friday’s post about ball movement over the last month. For those who haven’t read it, it explained what’s been happening and showed the subtle differences between the good and bad.

The issue against Richmond was that in an attempt to rectify recent woes, the dial was pushed way too far in the attacking sense. Much like the bowler who gets cut for four and responds with a half volley next up, it was an overcompensation by North in all areas.

And the absolute last team to let you get away with that is Richmond.


Previously in North Round Reviews: Round 1 | Round 2 | Round 3 | Round 4 | Round 5 | Round 6

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The Tigers, by design, are not a strong ball-winning side. To say they willingly give up first possession is too much of a stretch, but their bread and butter is winning the ball back from opposition and going from there.

It meant North Melbourne, a stronger ball-winning side, would naturally get plenty of opportunities to move the ball and implement what it had been working on during the week.

In previous weeks it had largely been straight line, straight line, a little straighter, and almost always long. On Saturday night the side came out and instead of adding subtle tweaks, alongside more general movement, decided to play like a re-enactment from the dying stages of Hawthorn v Geelong in the 2013 preliminary final.

Here’s the thing. Against quite a few sides, it would have worked. Probably got great results from it too.

Against a Richmond side which swarms and feasts on teams trying to transition quickly? Better chance of success if you got the 1996 premiership side out there with a 1996 game style. At their current fitness levels.

Let’s step through the handful of examples easiest to illustrate from early on which ended either in turnovers, set in motion an eventual turnover, or stopped play. I’ll put this in bold so no-one gets the wrong idea – remember this isn’t intended to spotlight and belittle individual efforts, but rather a solid overall game style idea in theory, executed against absolutely the wrong opponent.

First there’s this kick from Kyron Hayden, intended to get the ball to the open side as quickly as possible. It has to be an absolute bullet, with enough air to get over Jack Riewoldt, just to have a decent chance of reaching its intended target of Marley Williams. Doesn’t happen, gets cut off.

There’s this handball from Trent Dumont to Shaun Higgins, intended to open play up and run. It’s also the type of handball which lights up Richmond eyes like a red rag to a bull because it’s the signal to swarm. Higgins, under pressure, is forced to handball to Curtis Taylor, who’s then bumped as he kicks and turns it over.

Next with North on the break, Aaron Hall handballs to Jy Simpkin while Kamdyn McIntosh is practically breathing on him and most definitely not practicing social distancing. Simpkin’s wrapped up and play grinds to a halt.

To reiterate, this type of play would have worked against quite a few sides. But against Richmond, there needed to be a better balance between aggressiveness and safety – i.e. what worked in last year’s victory.

Now suddenly play is moving through the middle stages of the first quarter, North hasn’t looked like scoring, pinned in the back half, and all that’s been trained on during the week is backfiring spectacularly with significant positional changes.

The natural thought is what on earth does a side already low on confidence do now? Some players stick to their guns, some retreat further into their shell and the end result is a disjointed affair.

The magnets being thrown around meant there was naturally a lack of continuity between the lines and when that happens, defending is made eons tougher. It’s much harder to keep a team in shape against a well-drilled opposition which pounces on even the slightest of errors.

For example, this 50-second passage of play would normally be defended comfortably. But instead Richmond can casually shift from one side to another with not a lot of speed and find an alarming amount of space for Tom Lynch to lead into.

Then there’s the turnovers which Richmond live for. With the caveat it’s hard to defend against them normally, when confidence is down it’s just about a formality to concede.

Here you can see how the line of defence breached so very easily by Dustin Martin’s kick, and from there it’s a procession; one of many for the evening.

So what happens now with a playing group low on personnel and confidence before facing Carlton in Round 8?

There’ll be a further two added to the injury list with Jack Ziebell and Hayden, the latter hopefully holding up well after a sickening concussion.

In the Blues’ three losses this year against Richmond, Melbourne and St Kilda, they’ve struggled to defend against opponents committed to moving forward with speed; North would have a greater level of success playing in a similar fashion again next week, perhaps with the dial turned to seven or eight out of ten instead of 19.

But the question is whether the remaining players have the confidence to pull it off, and whether the smarter long-term play may be to strip the offensive part of the game back and essentially start again. It’s an unenviable situation to be in.

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