Ross Lyon points finger at umpires

Ross Lyon, the coach whose sides have often been accused of contributing to ugly play, has sheeted home some of the blame for unsightly congestion to the umpires.

The Fremantle coach said "the saddle's back" and players were now permitted to jump on the backs of opponents and pile on top of one another in packs without being penalised.

Lyon said he was confused about how games were umpired, no longer knew what would or would not be a free, and in particular certain behaviours that had been outlawed for several years were now legal again.

He was especialy troubled by what he thought was a relaxation of the chopping of the arms rule in marking contests and the reluctance of umpires to blow the whistle in packs, despite players jumping on each other and  leading to the congestion and mauls that were marring the game.

''My interpretation is umpires are letting the game go,'' Lyon said. ''There have been free kicks that were being paid last year that aren’t being paid this year.

"The saddle’s back. People are being jumped on on the ground. Being ridden and jumped on by two or three, and the ball can’t get out. Clearly they’ll blow for the ball-up, but they’re not paying the obvious free kicks, hence the term the rolling maul.

"And the amount of arms that are being taken out, chopping arms ... I don’t know what a free kick is or isn’t any more.''

This year there have been almost three free kicks per game fewer than last year - 36.7 compared with 34. The number of balls-ups has dropped this year by an average of four per game.

There has been one less free kick paid in marking contests per match this year, but there has been a declared change of rule - or emphasis/interpretation - where more physical contact has been permitted in marking contests. There has been no change to the chopping of the arms rule.

But in the opening rounds last year, the average number of frees per game was about 49 before dropping to 36.7 by the end of the season. The umpires this year are aiming to be more consistent not only within games but throughout the season.

New AFL umpiring boss Wayne Campbell and umpires' coach Hayden Kennedy have instructed umpires to use more common sense in decision making in contests, to let the game flow more, and to remove the technical but soft free kick for incidental contact in packs in particular.

The move was widely applauded in the pre-season and early games, but Lyon argues it has gone too far and obvious free kicks are not being paid and so the way the game is being umpired is contributing to the unappealing look of some games.

Campbell said this week the umpiring department had received no instruction from the AFL regarding altering umpiring interpretations to address the look of the game.

''The only direction that we as an umpiring department have given to the umpires in terms of scrimmages is that if the ball is locked away, blow your whistle quickly, because certainly there is a correlation between the speed at which you ball it up, and the congestion that leads to a secondary stoppage,'' he said. "But that's been an umpiring department directive, as opposed to an AFL one.''

Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson said the aesthetic was an annual debate.

"It's very, very early in the season. I reckon if we go back to round three, four, five of every season we have these types of debates about the game and how it's evolving. It's difficult, because there's plenty out there who want the game to return to past years and what we had, but there's plenty of excitement about our current game.

''Coaches, players, administrators at AFL level will look into what is best for our game and that will happen over the course of time, but it's a little bit dramatic at the moment because it's so early in the season.

''Certainly, from a coaching point of view and our own players at Hawthorn, we're still feeling our way into the season, what's going on, what trends are happening, how different teams are playing, all that goes into the mix.

"So it's probably a bit premature to jump to conclusions on some of those [trends]. Just let the game evolve for a little while.''

With AFP

The story Ross Lyon points finger at umpires first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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