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by Troy Thompson, reporting for AFANA from Melbourne

After five goals in the first eleven minutes of the match by Carlton, Richmond worked their way back into the match before blowing the Blues away in the final quarter, running out winners by 26 points.  It was a perfect night for football and the 90,151 fans saw a good contest with improvement by the Blues and a solid finish by the reigning premiers.

Richmond and Carlton have played each other in the season opener at the MCG ten times between 2007 and 2017 (but not in 2014).  In that time the two teams have split the wins but never have the Tiger's fans been more confident of taking home the four points in round one coming into this game as reigning premiers.

Prior to the match the traditional unfurling of the 2017 premiership flag took place.  The huge pennant was brought down on a walk from the city, into the ground, and through the crowd at the southern end of the ground. Once inside, it was taken through the Richmond cheer squad and escorted around the boundary for a lap of the ground by 11 Richmond fans (representing 11 premierships).  The flag was then ceremonially raised on a temporary flagpole mounted on the 50m arc at the city end by President Peggy O’Neill along with Brendan Gale, and AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan.

Conditions were perfect with the ground looking flawless and just a light breeze felt on the ground. Around 70,000 patrons were in at the bounce of the ball, with 7:25PM being a little early for a work night. While Martin got the first clearance out of the middle for the match the defense held firm for the Blues. On the rebound they were the first to score as Kennedy hit up Charlie Curnow in the pocket and he kicked the first goal of the AFL season. Carlton kicked the next four goals. One through Fisher, a second to Charlie Curnow for the quarter, and goals to Garlett and Wright.

With five goals to none against them in the first eleven minutes, the Tigers rallied and kicked four goals of their own. Two to Jack Reiwoldt, one to Castagna, and one to Townsend putting any early talk of premiership hangovers to bed. Down back Simpson, Jones, Plowman. and Marchbank were good for the Blues when the ball was kicked in long.  In the middle for the Tigers it was Martin, Cotchin, and Ellis that did the damage for the Tigers.

The Blues rallied again late in the quarter and with 33 minutes on the clock Jarrod Garlett picked off a short pass and despite going for a wander and considering playing on, was not required to play on by the umpire. He went back and kicked his second goal for the quarter from 20 meters out. At quarter time it was a 9-point lead to Carlton.

Fortunately for the Tigers, Nankervis was back on the ground after leaving in the first quarter with blood flowing from his head. (Richmond’s backup ruck option is Shaun Grigg who is at a big height deficit against Carlton’s Matthew Kreuzer.) Carlton held off the Tigers early second quarter push for 6 minutes. Finally, the Tigers got the ball in the open and were able to hit Caddy on a double back lead. He kicked the set shot for the goal. The Blues continued to repel attacks but the Tigers setup the defensive wall and continued to send the ball back inside the 50. 

Finally, the Blues broke through when Kreuzer marked on the wing and fed off the handball to Mark Murphy who was past him at speed. Murphy’s kick which might have been a shot at goal faded and fell into the arms of Wright running back with the flight of the ball.  Wright kicked his second goal for the night. 

After another extended period holding out the Blues broke through Richmond’s wall again and after Wright marked at the top of the 50, he received the 50m penalty when Brandon Ellis was inside the 10m protected area. Wright kicked his third. Richmond found a way to get one back, when Butler was lucky to get a free kick as Cripps was deemed to have thrown the ball deep in the pocket.  Butler’s checkside though was worthy of the six points it received.

Richmond dominated the quarter but could not find a consistent way through to goal and that was due in part to some poor decision making at times, but mostly to the Carlton defenders who were disciplined and desperate.  Again, it was Simpson, Marchbank, and Plowman weathering the storm while Ed Curnow, Cripps, and Murphy working hard to get the ball forward. When they did it was Wright that used his speed and finish to benefit the Blues.  Cotchin, Martin, and Ellis were the drivers but the Carlton midfielders worked hard to stifle their influence. It was a four point lead to the Blues at half time.

In the third quarter the game opened up. Both teams pressed their case with the lead switching throughout the quarter.The Tigers got the start they wanted in the third quarter, Riewoldt’s long kick into the 50 opened things up for Kennedy to get on the end of a handball chain and kicked the goal to finally give the Tigers the lead. Carlton responded quickly through Charlie Curnow who was bumped as he snapped around his body 45 meters out.  He went to the ground holding his knee and limped off the ground but would later return and play out the match. 

Castagna added one for Richmond and then a brilliant speedy run of handballs off full back ended again in the arms of Wright and he kicked his fourth goal. Reiwoldt marked on his own 25 meters out straight in front and kicked his third for the night. And again, the Blues returned fire as Casboult (now in the ruck for an injured Kreuzer) received a free kick after it was deemed Nankervis took him over the shoulder. While Carlton fans held their breath, he kicked long and straight to put Carlton two points ahead. 

Richmond then kicked the first consecutive goals for the quarter first through Townsend and then Butler.Charlie Curnow again reduced the margin to single figures when Caddy entered the protected area as Curnow went to take his kick. At three quarter time the Tigers took the break in front by four points, but Carlton were hanging in there. 11.14 (80) to Carlton 12.4 (76).

Early in the last Carlton once again were the beneficiaries of a Richmond player in the protected area (this time Cotchin) as Charlie Curnow was brought to the square to kick his 5th goal of the night. This would be the last time they would hold the lead. Richmond started to turn up the pressure, but did panic a little around the attacking 50 and showed perhaps a little too much urgency resulting with them kicking multiple behinds.

Eleven minutes into the last quarter Dustin Martin decided enough was enough. The ball sent into the hot spot by Richmond came off the hands of Jones and spilled forward. Martin ran onto the ball at pace, fended one defender off, added a meter to give himself time and checksided the goal on the run. Butler's goal two minutes later had less brute force but as much class as he chipped the ball to the goal line under pressure. Townsend kicked another two quick goals to top off a great night for him and put the game out of Carlton’s reach. 

Wright was certainly one of the positives for Carlton tonight and kicked his fifth goal when a long kick found him at the top of the 50.  He played on quickly and goaled through an empty goal square. Carlton looked tired now though and not just because of the final quarter onslaught; they had to defend most of the night. 

Late goals to Reiwoldt for Richmond, Petrevski-Seton for the Blues, and Castagna for Richmond all came at a point where the 4 points were already in Richmond’s account. The final margin was 26 points. While Carlton pressed hard all night and were served well by their defenders and midfield (Cripps in particular) they did not provide enough opportunity to their forwards. Charlie Curnow and Wright with 5 goals each largely on the turnovers which kept the Blues in it but in the end they lacked the firepower to overcome the Tigers. 

Richmond pulled themselves out of a dangerous situation in the last quarter, but they will be well aware that they are now the hunted in 2018 and will need to be much better than tonight against better quality teams in the weeks to come. As a side note the umpires clearly focused on the 10-meter protected area rule tonight and seem to be taking a much softer line on the deliberate out of bounds ruling.

RICHMOND 4.4 6.11 11.14 17.19 (121) 
CARLTON  6.1 8.3  12.4  15.5   (95)

Richmond: Townsend 4, Riewoldt 4, Butler 3, Caddy 3, Castagna 2, Martin
Carlton: C.Curnow 5, Wright 5, Garlett 2, Fisher, Casboult, Petrevski-Seton

Richmond: Martin, Rance, Cotchin, Caddy, Riewoldt, Butler
Carlton: Cripps, C.Curnow, Simpson, Murphy, Wright, Marchbank 

Richmond: Nil
Carlton: Kennedy (left ankle), Kreuzer (groin)

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Fisher, Rosebury, Hosking

Official crowd: 90,151 at the MCG

Article last changed on Thursday, March 22, 2018 - 12:22 PM EDT

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