When Richmond’s final team to play the West Coast on Sunday was selected in the Saturday paper, two things occurred to me. This is the same back six which was selected the previous week and when was the last time their back six did not change? The formation I am referring to is Morris – Rance – Newman; Houli – Grimes – Batchelor.
Much has been made of Richmond’s ups and downs since commencing yet another rebuild under Damien Hardwick in 2010. It took until round 10 that year to break a 13 match losing streak (the Tigers lost the last four games of 2009) when they gritted their way to a 47 point win over Port Adelaide at AAMI Stadium. One bookmaker even paid out on the Tigers winning the wooden spoon in 2010 as early as round 4 after they were winless with an average losing margin of almost ten goals.
An Essendon supporter, I was there to witness their ninth straight loss under Hardwick in 2010 when the Bombers started with a seven goal to two first quarter before eventually winning by 35 points. In defence for Richmond that night were Newman (13 possessions), Rance (10), McGuane (10), Moore (8) Nason (8) and Thursfield (5). Essendon took 110 marks to Richmond’s 63. Perhaps this loss to the club he won a premiership with in 2000 (as a key figure in one of the most ruthless defence’s of the modern era) was the catalyst for rebuilding Richmond’s brittle defence. In between then and their spirited loss to the undefeated West Coast Eagles on Sunday, the Tigers have ‘improved’ to a 15-23-1 record under Hardwick. Ironically the Eagles (24-19-0 during the same period) were the eventual wooden spooners in 2010.
Assuming Richmond’s back six has been fairly settled since Jake Batchelor came into the team in round 2, their averages in four games are impressive: Morris (16 possessions), Rance (21), Newman (23), Houli (24), Grimes (16), Batchelor (19). In those games the team also managed an average of 107 marks compared to 91 and a (points) for and against of 105%. It was predominantly quality opposition too in three of last year’s top four teams (Geelong, Collingwood and West Coast) and a lowly Melbourne. While the Tigers did score 133 against a depleted Demons side, they only conceded over 100 points once (107) to West Coast.
The team’s defensive structure does not solely rely on the shoulders of its emerging back six, as just to name a few like Deledio, Grigg, Conca and Ellis all spend time back there to help out and provide elite kicking. A tough and skillful defender himself, “Dimma” has focused on developing quick ball movement and elite kicking out of Richmond’s defence, which had previously dogged the Tigers. However clearly there is a correlation between a settled back six and more consistent team performances. Let’s briefly examine the players old and new, which comprise the Tiger’s current back six.
Originally overlooked as a Father-Son selection to the Tigers, they are now blessed to have him. Beginning in round 1 Morris has carried on his great work as a physical small defender in the SANFL last year at AFL level.
Already showing good improvement from his second to third AFL season, Rance has taken it to another level this year. He’s physically developed enough to play on the big boys and hurt them going forward if not manned up.
Most would agree that the skipper’s ball winning ability and disposal has gone to the elite category.
Given a regular role at half back and through the midfield with the Tigers, Houli has made rapid improvement under Hardwick and is seemingly more composed with his disposal under pressure.
Now in his third season and standing at 193cm, Grimes is starting to find his feet at the level and provide much needed grunt and muscle along with Rance. Like his older brother Jack at Melbourne, wears his opponents like a glove.
I saw Batchelor play in the TAC Cup competition in 2010 and thought he was the best contested mark of his group. In only his second AFL season, he is already showing glimpses it will be a strength at the senior level.
It has taken two years but finally Dimma has a settled and balanced emerging back six which can help propel the Tigers to a long overdue finals campaign. After a tough 1-4 start to the season it may not be in 2012 but if this group can stay healthy over the next 12-18 months, Tiger fans have plenty to look forward too.
Written by: Roger “Shooter” Cooper