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AFL Round Eight: Saints’ Stoppages Prove Difference

(Feature image by Matt Turner/AFL Photos)

We’re back into our Round by Round series this week, with a particular focus on St Kilda’s win over Port Adelaide.

St Kilda recorded their second win at the Adelaide Oval within the week, following a strong final quarter performance to see off the ladder-leading Port Adelaide.

Today we have a closer look at where the Saints gained the upper-hand against the Power, with the game providing a great example of how a side was able to limit their opposition’s arguably greatest strength.

This piece, along with those coming in the future, will be slightly shorter than we’ve previously released. This is in order to keep up with the upcoming schedule, and also make our pieces slightly more digestible.

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The clearance & hitout differentials

There’s probably no guessing required as to where we’re starting this one.

Prior to Saturday evening’s game, Port Adelaide led the competition for average stoppage clearance differential, while the Saints ranked twelfth best. On Saturday though, St Kilda were able to gain the ascendency at stoppages, which proved to have a major influence on the game’s final result.

St Kilda won the final stoppage clearance count by nine, thanks in part to a convincing display in the final quarter where the Saints managed ten stoppage clearances to the Power’s six.

With Peter Ladhams shouldering the responsibility of being the Power’s first-choice ruckman for the second week running (as Scott Lycett remains injured), the Power’s poor showing at stoppages was foreshadowed by their struggles last weekend against the Blues, where they also lost the stoppage clearance count by five.

With this noted, the Saints doubled-down on their selection of both Rowan Marshall and Paddy Ryder against the Crows last weekend, once again opting to name the two bigs to face the Power.

The selection of both Marshall and Ryder raised questions from numerous pundits, though considering their dominance on Saturday evening, these concerns were quickly laid to rest.

Apparent from the outset, St Kilda were able to generate better field position from their ability to win decisive stoppages in between the arcs. Ryder and Marshall finished the game with a combined 40 hitouts (+24), whilst also ranking as as the two best players on the field according to the AFL rating points metric.

Credit @AFLPlayerRating

In particular, Ryder’s ability to dictate hit zones to his midfielders was unparalleled. Ryder won 65.9% of his 44 ruck contests, whilst also managing eleven hitouts-to-advantage. This was while Port Adelaide could only manage the five for the game.

A great example of how Ryder was able to put the Saints’ midfielders at such an advantage over their direct opponents, can be seen at the first boundary throw-in of the game.

We’ll discuss strategies regarding each side’s wings under the next subheading, but do note how Ryder (by winning the hitout) is able to place the ball in a zone where St Kilda have the number advantage around the stoppage.

A couple of examples & their relevance

The first example we used above provides a great illustration of how the Saints were able to generate clean ball movement from a number of stoppages across there field.

Watching the first clip again, take note of the time and space afforded to the Saints on their defensive side of the stoppage where Ryder places the hitout. The Power prefer to play their sweeping wing free at stoppages (as discussed in our Round Five piece about the Lions/Power fixture), which also allows their opposition to either play their sweeping wing free, or send them to the Power’s. During the majority of the first half, each side’s sweeping wing played separately.

Given St Kilda’s ruck dominance, the Saints were able to dictate the hit zones that favoured their numbers around stoppages. This isolated the Power’s sweeping wing, making their ability to impact the contest difficult, while the likes of Brad Hill and Jack Billings were able to impact the game from the very first boundary throw-in.

The Saints were too often able to generate run-and-carry from these stoppages by utilising handball outlets on their defensive side of stoppages (i.e. their free sweeping wing). The first example above wasn’t a standalone event, especially in the first quarter as the Power initially backed their ability to utilise their own sweeping wing and on-ball brigade.

In this example from the second quarter, Billings is positioned as the Saints’ sweeping winger, gaining possession under little pressure before utilising the run generated by Ben Paton off half-back to kick long into the Saints’ forward half.

Also note Brad Hill’s effort to spread from his starting position (corridor wing). Hill initially tracks his direct opponent (Xavier Duursma) to the far wing before making an excellent pressing decision, applying frontal pressure to Riley Bonner and forcing a stoppage.

This type of effort largely goes unseen from those quick to question Hill’s early impact at St Kilda. He’s clearly gassed after getting up from the tackle on Bonner having just shutdown any chance of a Power rebound out of their defensive half. The Saints go on to score from this stoppage, a deserving reward for Hill’s effort to lock the ball inside the Saints’ forward half.

Back on topic.

As the Saints chose to feed backward out of stoppages, the pressure from Port Adelaide’s highest forwards (Farrell in the first example of the piece, Ebert in the example where Billings wins the clearance) was simply lacking, often giving time for the Saints’ outlets to scan the field and move the ball promptly under little pressure. If you want to see what good pressure from your highest forwards looks like, read our piece about Carlton’s win over the Western Bulldogs.

The lack of pressure from Port Adelaide’s forwards at the back of stoppages may not directly be the fault of the Power’s forwards. Given the starting positions of the Power’s wingers and forwards in the first half, it seemed Port Adelaide wanted to keep stoppages open in order to let their league-leading midfield go to work. This standpoint seemed to change after halftime.

There were also times where the Power didn’t help themselves. In the case below, Dan Houston chooses to knock the ball forward at stoppage despite the Saints clearly outnumbering Port Adelaide on the Power’s offensive side of stoppage. The Saints sweeping wing (Jack Sinclair) is then able work the ball cleanly by hand to a set of one-on-ones ahead of the ball (something we analyse in more detail during the next section), generating an eventual score.

The Power eventually decided to send their sweeping wing to St Kilda’s in order to stem the metres gained generated by the Saints’ wings and half-backs from stoppages. The Power’s highest forwards also began to make their presence felt around stoppages, pushing higher up the ground to pressure the Saints’ outlets we’ve already discussed. When these moves were made during the third quarter, St Kilda began mixing things up (see below).

Score source & 1 v 1s

Prior to Saturday evening’s clash, Port Adelaide had scored 42.69% of their points this season from stoppages, ranking the Power fourth amongst all sides for percentage of total score sourced from stoppages (data sourced from the ABC’s great piece re Nick Haynes/GWS here).

Against the Saints, things were much different as the Power generated just nine points in total from stoppages (20.45% of their total score), with their one stoppage goal coming from the first centre bounce of the third quarter. This was while the Saints generated score after score from stoppage, utilising their aforementioned run-and-carry to isolate matchups across the ground. Here’s St Kilda’s first goal of the final quarter.

The Power (prior to Round Eight) ranked second in the AFL for offensive one-on-one contests, recording on average of 17 per game. This contrasted Saturday evening’s performance, as the Power were only able to generate ten one-on-ones ahead of the ball.

This was in part due to the Power spending less time in their forward half, but also key to this was Port Adelaide’s inability to win clearances around the ground.

Take a look at this example. As the Power begun to send their sweeping wing to St Kilda’s during the third quarter, the Saints began mixing up their hits.

Zak Jones runs a route to Ryder’s feet, drawing his opponent into congestion with him. This affords Jade Gresham time and space on the outside of the stoppage. Ryder (with some help from a deflection) puts the ball into Gresham’s path, with the speed of the sequence helping to isolate the one-on-one matchups ahead of the ball. As it all happens so quickly, the Power are unable to get a third-man-up across to generate any potential intercept over Marshall. Saints score.

This example highlights how winning clearances can have a major influence on a team’s ability to generate one-on-ones ahead of the ball. The Power’s defensive unit are given zero time to react as the Saints run the ball straight out of the contest. Here’s one from last week where Travis Boak was able to achieve a similar result against Carlton early in the first quarter. These shots on goal weren’t on offer against St Kilda.

Port Adelaide win the initial clearance, kicking inside 50 to six one-on-one matchups. Boak spreads forward from the contest to get on the end of a handball, finishing with the first goal of the game. The speed of the sequence isolates the matchups ahead of the ball as Carlton’s defensive unit are afforded little time to generate an intercept or spoil from a third-man-up scenario.

The Power’s stoppage woes meant their previous balance between scoring from stoppages or interceptions shifted very much in favour of the latter.

The Power were able to generate scores from interceptions with relative ease at times (i.e. Robbie Gray’s goal to end the first quarter). Though, in other periods of the game, St Kilda were able to execute some great team defending, limiting the Power’s ability to spend significant stretches of time in their forward half (ranked first in the AFL for average inside 50 differential, averaging +15).

The example below was just one sequence following a Port Adelaide intercept, where the Saints were able to slow the Power’s ball movement, forcing them laterally into an eventual turnover.

This example came at the backend of the third quarter which Port Adelaide had initially dominated, generating nine repeat entries inside 50. The Power failed to capitalise on these chances, leaving the door open for the Saints’ five goal final quarter blitz.

Overall

St Kilda’s stellar performance on Saturday evening shone a torchlight on Port Adelaide’s midfield brigade who were beaten convincingly in the loss.

The Saints took it to the Power around stoppages, creating valuable run-and-carry from contests, isolating 1 v 1 matchups ahead of the ball, and hitting the scoreboard in the process.

While these factors aided the Saints in their win, these efforts also directly limited the Power’s ability to utilise one of its greatest strengths. Could this performance from St Kilda form the blueprint for future sides preparing to tackle the current competition leader?

If you did enjoy this piece, please check out a similar analysis we did in our Round Five edition from the Power’s loss to Brisbane. You can also find us on Twitter (@ftballextension), or via our mailing list mentioned earlier.

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