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AFL seeks club feedback on 'third man up'

Nathan Schmook  March 7, 2017 10:01 AM

THE AFL has no intention of scrapping the 'third man up' rule but will seek feedback from clubs on how to adjudicate anomalies with the controversial change. 

Problems with the rule, which requires teams to nominate a ruckman before each boundary throw-in or ball-up, have been exposed over the JLT Community Series.

Adelaide midfielder Dean Gore was penalised when he was hit by a shallow throw-in against Geelong, while North Melbourne captain Jack Ziebell also gave away a free kick under the new rule. 

Introduced to eliminate the 'third man up' at ruck contests, the rule does not allow for a player outside each teams' ruckman to touch the ball, even if a throw-in doesn't travel to the contest.

AFL director of umpiring Peter Schwab said the rule would not be scaled back to once again allow a 'third man up', but tweaks could be made ahead of the final weekend of the pre-season series.

"It's a little bit unusual, so we'll just be asking the clubs if the player who gets hit by the ball is passive and not looking to impact the ruck contest should we just be calling play on?" Schwab said.

"It's more than likely they'll ask that that change occurs. 

"We've had about 600 boundary throw-ins and I think that's the first time in the men's JLT Community Series that someone has been hit on the back of the head." 

Schwab said the AFL would send clubs a memo on Monday evening asking for feedback on the 'third man up' and rushed behind rule, which will revert to a free kick penalty this week.   

It was likely an outcome on the former would be reached this week, in time for the final round of pre-season games. 

If there was a change, Schwab said umpires would only be instructed to call play on if the player who was struck was passive, as Gore was. 

"If we feel that you are trying to interfere in the ruck contest, then the penalty will stand," he said.

"Ziebell's is a bit different, because there's still some movement across the contest … he's not a passive participant in that."

The banning of the 'third man up' and introduction of nominated ruckmen was seen as a radical rule change when announced last December. 

It sparked debate and split the AFL's senior coaches, but the Commission passed the contentious change after widespread consultation. 

Then football operations manager Mark Evans said it was an important change that would preserve one of the game's unique features. 

"Eliminating the 'third man up' at ruck contests will support the recruitment of tall players and ensure our game continues to be played at the elite level by players of various sizes and differing abilities," Evans said in December.

The game's umpires also believed the rule change would make the game easier to adjudicate. 

Adelaide coach Don Pyke said the anomalies in the rule could lead to contentious decisions in big games. 

"It's one of the real weird ones that rule – if the ball hits you as a midfielder, and you're around the contest, it's a free kick against," Pyke said at the weekend. 

"If that led to a goal … I'd hate to see that happen in a big game."