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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago

A number of AFL coaches have questioned the AFL's trial of limiting bench rotations during the NAB Cup series to 80 per game. Hawthorn Coach Alastair Clarkson said he and his staff were spending more time pre-game trying to prepare for various scenarios based on the rotation limit and more time

during the game "counting numbers" to the detriment of coaching. He described the limit as an "enormous constraint" and said that with approximately 131 rotations across the game in 2012, a number of 120 would be more sensible if the AFL is determined to introduce the rule next year. Hawthorn's plans were made even more complicated with injuries to Luke Breust and David Hale. He summed up by saying "It's a bloody tough game, and there's no set plays or stops ... like gridiron. It's not a coach-driven game, it's a player-driven game, and we're just making it more and more difficult for the players ... we've got a great spectacle ... we can't allow the players to just play with freedom, because they're constrained by this interchange, it makes it pretty difficult".

Bulldogs Coach Brenton Sanderson agreed with Clarkson that a limit of 80 - that is 20 per quarter - was extreme and that he also spent more time counting thank coaching. He believes making the rule permanent could "hurt a game that doesn't need fixing ... We're going to say let's put the cap at 80 and see what happens ... I hope it's good but what happens if it's no good?" He does not have any objection to the pre-season being used for trial rules, but believes the AFL must continue to consult with the clubs.

GWS Coach Kevin Sheedy and Sydney Coach John Longmire also weighed in on the issue ahead of their match in Sydney. Due to the warm and humid conditions, both teams were allowed a six-man bench, but the third week of the NAB Cup will revert to the rotation limit with three interchange players and one substitute. Longmire said the rules made it difficult to get game time into players coming back from injury, such as veteran Adam Goodes (knee), and giving game time to younger players. He also said it greatly reduced the flexibility needed to prepare for Round One of the season proper. He suggested that trialing new rules in lower level competitions might be a better strategy.

Sheedy expressed concern that the interchange cap could exacerbate problems with the strict concussion rule, using an example of two teammates colliding and getting knocked out. In such a situation the team would be in trouble. He believes that in such cases, the fourth player - the substitute - should be released as a full interchange player.

Carlton Coach Mick Malthouse was also critical of not only the interchange cap, but took a veiled swipe at the laws committee. He said restricting the number of rotations was "not player friendly" and hoped those in charge of making the rules understood the demands of the modern game. He accused them of ignoring medical evidence which he said showed a strong link between more interchanges and less injuries, noting that fatigued players meant more fatigue-type injuries.

Supporters of the restrictions believe the constant rotations detract from the look of the game. This notion was rejected by Malthouse who said "... what do you see? If people come and watch ... they might see a multiple change ... People at home don’t see it ... people at the ground couldn't care. Coaches get driven mad by having a reduced number."

While he would not name names, his swipes at the rules committee could well have been directed at long-time members Kevin Bartlett, umpires coach Rowan Sawers and former Carlton defender Michael Sexton. The trio have been with the rules committee for more than five years.

Not only has the interchange limit come under fire from coaches, so has the heat rule, with Suns captain Gary Ablett calling on the AFL to reconsider the heat policy - which can be implemented to change game time from day to night in cases where temperatures soar to 85 or 90 degrees. He wants the AFL to take the humidity into consideration when considering implementation of the policy. At the start of the game between the Suns and the Kangaroos, the temperature was close to 90 and there was 80 per cent humidity. Ablett said the humidity also took a toll, with players complaining of feeling drained after training sessions in hot and humid conditions in Townsville (just outside Cairns in northeast Queensland). The game could not be switched to the evening because the stadium lights were not up to AFL standard.

Under current AFL rules, when the temperature is 85 degrees or more, quarters can be shortened by two and a half minutes and breaks extended from six to ten minutes. When temperatures soar to 90 or above, the substitute rule is scrapped and teams are allowed a six man bench with no limit on rotations. The AFL was already under fire after the first week of the NAB Cup due to no provisions for the heat at Etihad when St Kilda, Port Adelaide and Adelaide played in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees.


Article last changed on Sunday, March 10, 2013 - 1:19 PM EDT

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