AFL news: Rule changes for 2021, interchange cap, rotations, Cricket BBL law tweaks, super sub, powerplay

Cricket and football fans hate change for the sake of change, as we’ve witnessed this week.

Take a temperature check for the Australian Football League (AFL) and Cricket Australia (CA) and you will likely receive third degree burns, such has been the ferocity of feedback.

Both sports have both fiddled around the edges of their respective sports ahead of next season. Both sports have been hammered.

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In football, interchange rotations have been politely trimmed rather than slashed, the man on the mark must now play dead fish standing up and the player on the mark at kick-ins will be two large steps further back in 2021.

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AFL makes rule tweaks for 2021 season to combat defensive play and ‘open up the game’

The AFL will strongly consider mandating at least three players from each team be stationed inside both 50-metre arcs at all stoppages in a bid to combat defensive structures.

The rule will be trialled in the new VFL and East Coast second-tier competition next year, with an eye towards introducing it at the elite level for 2022.

The innovation comes as the AFL on Wednesday announced three rule tweaks for the 2021 season designed to facilitate more attacking play and lead to higher scoring.

As expected, there will be a further reduction in interchange rotations to a maximum of 75 per team, down from 90 last season.

Players standing the mark will only be allowed “minimal” lateral movement, and the location of the mark at kick-ins will be set at 15 metres from the centre of the kick-off line.

It was previously set at 10 metres.

“The evolution of the game has seen an increase in defensive structures and these changes combined are designed to provide a better balance between attack and defence while encouraging more open ball movement,” AFL football operations manager Steve Hocking said in a statement.

“We have some of the most skilful athletes in the world, and the three changes are designed to reduce the defensive capability of teams and open up the game, providing an opportunity for players to have more freedom to play on instinct and show off their natural flair.

Hocking said the AFL had not considered reducing the number of players on the field to create more space.

He said the rule being tested in the VFL and East Coast competition would have that effect by spreading players out across the ground.

It is also expected that fewer interchange rotations will lead to more player fatigue and result in fewer players being able to get to stoppages, thus limiting congestion.

The cap on rotations could come down even further in future seasons but was only reduced by 15 for next year so as not to put players under too much stress.

“We felt that was that right level and it’s incremental change, so we’ll remain open as to what the future looks like beyond 2021,” Hocking said.


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NZ Rugby claim delight with Test tweaks

New Zealand Rugby has refused to confirm whether getting the All Blacks home for Christmas has come with a price tag for the local game.

On Thursday, SANZAAR announced a tweak to the Rugby Championship draw so the Kiwis finish up in time to serve a two-week quarantine in New Zealand and enjoy Christmas lunch with their families.

Mark Robinson, chief executive of NZ Rugby, said he was delighted to get the change over the line.

“It’s a really tense time. There’s a lot of uncertainty and anxiety,” he said.

“It’s been really constructive. All parties have come to the table looking for a resolution.”

Robinson denied a player boycott had been tabled by the three-time world champions.

Instead of starting the four-team tournament on November 7 and finishing on December 12, the All Blacks will now begin a week earlier with a standalone clash with Australia at ANZ Stadium on October 31, finishing their duties with a December 5 match with Argentina.

The fixture change is possible after the NSW government removed the need for people travelling from New Zealand to quarantine.

Reports on either side of the Tasman suggest NZ Rugby have made commercial concessions for the switch, but Robinson wouldn’t be drawn on the terms.

“Ultimately we’ve gotten there haven’t we?” Robinson said.

“We’re really happy with the arrangement.

“It’s obviously commercial sensitive but we’re comfortable with it. It’s a good compromise all round.”

Robinson said there was still no confirmation South Africa, which has recorded more than 10,000 COVID-19 cases in the last week, would take part.

“We’re finding out more in the next few days. The last reports we have remain pretty positive,” he said.

The changes come at a difficult time for world rugby, which is re-arranging schedules and competitions amid a financial hit from COVID-19.

The prospect of ever returning to a five-nation Super Rugby competition appears impossible and Robinson said he was yet to begin discussions with Rugby Australia about trans-Tasman club games in 2021.

“We’ve had a few other things going on … once we get through this little period we’ll talk a bit about our competition for next year,” he said.

The Wallabies face New Zealand at Wellington’s Sky Stadium on Sunday in the first of four Bledisloe Cup matches that begin the international calendar.

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The AFL’s dangerous tackle tweaks just made MRO Michael Christian’s job more difficult, but it’s worth it

The AFL loves a rule change. Absolutely lives for them.

So much so that a few weeks ago, league influencer (in the old-fashioned sense of the word) Eddie McGuire suggested it should “break the game” with rule changes in order to then fix it and make it ostensibly better — one presumes that’s what he had in mind when he this week put Sherrin on notice because its footballs are apparently too slippery.

According to many, everything in the game is tweakable and improvable. According to many others, giving the game time to breathe without the constant tinkering would eventually cure what ails it — the full forward is returning to the goalsquare, nature is healing.

But if there’s one area where reform is met with near-universal approval, it’s in the prevention of head injuries and punishment of dangerous actions that make them more likely.

In that sense, the AFL’s move to swiftly update the fine print used to guide match review officer (MRO) Michael Christian’s decision-making is a welcome one. But, like every back-end adjustment the AFL makes, how the change plays out in real terms remains difficult to predict.

If you missed the hubbub this weekend, it basically went like this — Shaun Burgoyne absolutely nailed Patrick Dangerfield in an objectively dangerous sling tackle, but because Dangerfield’s head is presumably made of granite like the rest of him, he suffered no real ill effects.

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Burgoyne tackle prompts AFL rule change

Because Dangerfield wasn’t concussed, Christian could only grade the tackle as careless, high contact and low impact, meaning Burgoyne wasn’t suspended. Everyone basically agreed that was insufficient, and the AFL agreed, changing its guidelines going forward, but not Burgoyne’s punishment.

What that now means is that Christian has the authority and responsibility to grade every tackle under the metric of “potential to cause serious injury”. Gone are the days of judging a tackle on its results, now each action will need to pass the MRO sniff test.

In theory, this is a good thing. The word from the AFL is that under this new arrangement, Christian would have taken the Burgoyne tackle on its merits and handed him a one-match suspension. Few would argue in that case that the system wasn’t working.

But with the framework removed, where Christian draws his lines will be intriguing to watch, and will inevitably lead to either more suspensions, significant criticism or both.

Previously, the system may have been deeply flawed, but it was at least predictable — if you did a somewhat naughty tackle and the player got injured, you would be suspended. If they didn’t get injured, you would receive a fine.

Jordan De Goey grimaces as he hits the ground, while Trent Cotchin completes the tackle
The line between a fair tackle and a dangerous one can be blurry.(AAP: Michael Dodge)

Now? Who knows. The Burgoyne tackle was relatively cut and dry, but think of how many free kicks are given over a weekend for a dangerous tackle, after which the receiver gets up and plays on — are they all now potentially grounds for suspension?

Is history on Michael Christian’s side?

While there’s no doubt his is an unenviable and extremely difficult job, Christian has not exactly been a model of consistency during his two-and-a-bit years in the role, and his rationale is going to be heavily scrutinised on a case-by-case basis.

The best guide into his thought process around dangerous tackles came in 2018, when West Coast’s Nic Naitanui was suspended for a week for a tackle on Port Adelaide’s Karl Amon. Some considered that a contentious case, but in laying out his thought process at the time, Christian said the decision was “easy”.

“Tackling is the most challenging part of this role, because it’s obviously something you’re allowed to do,” Christian said.

“But this one, for me, was the easiest that I’ve had to adjudicate on, because the rules around tackling are pretty simple in a sense — if a tackle is unreasonable in the circumstances.”

AFL match review officer Michael Christian
Michael Christian will now be using his own judgement when determining the risk of a tackle.(AAP: James Ross)

Now, this example highlights both sides of the argument. In Christian’s favour, he clearly lays out that the number one metric he uses to adjudicate tackles is if it is “unreasonable in the circumstances”. If he takes his newly enhanced power and applies that metric consistently, nobody will have any complaints.

But this particular case was famous for other reasons. Eagles coach Adam Simpson was critical of Christian at the time for incorrectly telling media that both of Amon’s arms were pinned in the tackle and that the Port player immediately left the field concussed and didn’t return.

In the final wash-up of that case, the tribunal also ruled it was up to Naitanui to take into account the height and weight of his opponent when choosing how strongly to tackle them, a bizarre direction that hasn’t been seen in the AFL before or since.

It’s semantics now, but this one historic case alone highlights just how many obstacles will stand in Christian’s way whenever he is called upon to make a decision, now armed with little more than ‘the vibe’. There are a million factors at play in every tackle and just as many people lining up to tell the MRO where he went wrong.

So for all of us, everyone involved in football in any way, perhaps the first step is acknowledging this won’t be a perfect process, but recognising a greater good is being sought.

Expect mistakes. Expect disagreements. Expect inconsistencies. All of these can be forgiven so long as evidence emerges that, as Gillon McLachlan said in Monday’s statement, this is all part of the league getting serious about head injuries, for real this time.

Brodie Grundy tackles Ben Brown resulting in his concussion
The AFL wants to eliminate tackles that pose a greater risk of head injury and concussion.(AAP: Julian Smith)

“We want to be clear; protection of the head is our highest priority and we want all players at all levels and age groups to better understand that these tackles shouldn’t be part of our game,” the league boss said.

“Dangerous tackles have the potential to cause head injuries, and it is essential that this is taken into account when assessing an incident under the AFL tribunal guidelines.”

The cards are on the table now — the AFL wants it known that this stuff is more important than whether your team’s star player is available to play next week or not.

The league’s priority is ensuring that what happened to Paddy McCartin, what nearly happened to Andrew Brayshaw, and what is currently happening to Dan Venables doesn’t happen again. It has passed that responsibility on to Christian, whose mission just became more important and more difficult in one fell swoop.

No pressure, Michael.

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