AFL’s mid-season rule tweak won’t change much: coaches

Steve Larkin and Shayne Hope |

The AFL, after some coaching backlash, has made a call to change the holding the ball rule.
The AFL, after some coaching backlash, has made a call to change the holding the ball rule.

Coaches believe the AFL’s mid-season change to the contentious holding-the-ball rule won’t have a major impact.

After weeks of backlash from coaches and fans, the AFL hierarchy has directed umpires to shorten the “reasonable time” component of the rule.

The move comes after some coaches expressed confusion at how the law was being implemented.

Carlton coach Michael Voss, who sought clarity from the AFL earlier in the week, says he’s waiting to see how the change is implemented in his club’s Thursday night fixture against Port Adelaide.

“Every team sits and watches the first game of the week to find out how that plays out,” Voss told reporters.

“But there has been some really good dialogue, I think that has been well and truly embraced by the AFL.

“Plenty of clubs have been able to give the feedback we think it needs and whether that’s a slight interpretation or a slight adjustment, then we’ll roll with that.”

Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge says, regardless of the change, the holding-the-ball rule will remain difficult for umpires to adjudicate.

“It’s still going to be hard for the umpires, that’s the bottom line,” Beveridge told reporters on Wednesday.

“Tackles don’t last that long, it’s so hard for the guys and girls out there with the whistle in their hand to get it right.

“I don’t think there’s going to be much change from what’s transpired over the last week, there really can’t be much change.”

Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks described the change as “a minor adjustment”.

“It’s an important one we don’t make too big a deal of,” Nicks told reporters.

“There’s not a lot of change in it. We’re going down the right path, it’s player welfare that we’re looking at.

“There may be a reaction and it might be overdone slightly in the first couple of games where it’s a little sharper on holding the ball, but that’s OK.

“We’re not changing rules because we don’t like the game, we’re changing rules or adjusting parts of the game for player welfare … we’re doing it for the right reasons.”

Umpires attended Collingwood’s training on Wednesday to help coach Craig McRae’s team adjust to the fresh interpretation.

“They officiated like it would be officiated going forward … we’re aware of what is going on,” McRae told reporters.

“I would love to reward the tackle more.

“That has always been a focus of our group, that we want to pressure well, so a few more rewards would be nice.”

The AFL said the holding-the-ball rule remained a weekly focus for umpires.

Patrick Cripps.
Carlton’s Patrick Cripps is tackled during the match against the Suns. (Rob Prezioso/AAP PHOTOS)

“It has become clearer throughout the season that in discharging their duty of care whilst executing a tackle, tacklers are positively electing not to take tackled players to ground in the tackle or are generally doing so in a reasonable way including by not using excessive force,” the league said in a statement on Wednesday.

“As a consequence, we are seeing players hold on to the ball slightly longer and challenging the definition of ‘reasonable time’.

“Our umpires are clear on the interpretation of holding the ball and it continues to be a focus of umpire coaching each week.

“We want to ensure our clubs, coaches and players understand the rules and how they are being officiated.”

AAP