Yarran combines competent core defensive skills with elite attacking attributes

Defence - The Foundation of Attack

Thursday, August 02, 2012

By Hayden Skipworth
Bendigo Bombers Coach at Essendon FC

In modern day football, defence is the foundation of attack.  Following the success in recent times of defensively strong teams such as Geelong and Collingwood, coaches at all levels of the game are increasingly structuring their teams and game plans to maximise defensive pressure and rebound out of defence.

Defensive skills and methods continue to develop and evolve each season, and coaches and football clubs are investing a lot more time and energy on creating scoring opportunities through defensive output.  In the modern era, it’s fair to say that backmen are no longer just required to be “defenders”, but must also be the drivers of attack.

Defence as the best form of attack is not a new sporting theory.  In AFL, the realisation of this as a requisite of the modern defender may have stemmed from the transformation of taggers from mere “stoppers” to dual threats.  That is, players capable of defensively shutting down their opponent whilst winning their own ball and therefore placing pressure on their direct opponent to play a reciprocal defensive role.
This phenomenon is now creeping further back into the defensive 50 of modern AFL teams.  In the modern game, characterized by its fast paced, intense and contested nature, half backs have become the key drivers of attack and are selected as much for their offensive attributes as for their defensive abilities.   Players like Chris Yarran, Luke Hodge and Robert Murphy are the prototype for the modern half back.  All have the genuine speed and agility to allow them to run and rebound out of defence and create offensive drive, but also have elite skills, which allows them to use the ball effectively and hit leading forwards.  This is essential, given that the greatest risk to a game plan that thrives on the run out of defence, is the turnover, which enables quick entry into an undermanned defensive 50.

Modern centre half backs, such as Harry Taylor, Sam Fisher and Nathan Bock, and back pockets, such as Corey Enright and Harry O’Brien, are also increasingly running and attacking threats, who use their pace and elite skills to set up attack.  

The importance of the role modern defenders play in offence is illustrated by the development of the defensive forward or “defensive tag”, a tool utilised by coaches to negate the offensive threat of such defenders.

Whilst, the role of the attacking defender cannot be downplayed in the modern game, its not all doom and gloom for the traditional key defender.  Whilst there are tall, strong key forwards, there remains a place for tall, strong key defenders, who may not be able to match Cyril Rioli for pace, but have the size and strength to match Travis Cloke or Jonathon Brown in contested ball. 

Therein lies one of the many complex issues facing a modern day coach.  The modern day backline must be a dynamic mix of talls and smalls, pace and strength, and must have the ability to adapt each week to contest the varied forward combinations that each AFL team brings.  Not many teams boast the ideal defensive mix, and if they do, it’s rare that any team has the defensive depth to cover the inevitable loss of key players through injury or suspension. 

As a coach we need to balance this dynamic week in week out -  for example, the ideal defensive combination to match up on the tall forward line of West Coast one week will struggle to match Carlton’s small, fast offensive unit the next!      

I have considered and set out below, the modern day players I would choose to make up my ideal defensive combination (having regard to the modern day forwards and rotating players that they would be required to play on).  If only I had them available for selection for my team every week!  

First Back Pocket – Fletcher / Scarlett

Why?  They fill an important void of the third tall defender who can play on a tall, medium or small forward and can rotate on to key forwards when required.  Both read the play well and are good decision makers.  Add experience and leadership to the backline.  Reliable defensively and in their ball use.

Play on: any types (talls, mediums and smalls)

Second Back Pocket – Enright / O’Brien

Why? Corey Enright and Harry O’Brien add flexibility to the defensive combination.  They play on small forwards or cover strong rotating midfielders, such as Adam Goodes or Jobe Watson.  These players are the ideal size for this position, both are over six foot tall and can therefore help out in the air and come third man up in marking contests to mark or spoil the ball.  They also have great agility for evading tackles deep in defence and are competent in the defence of front and centres.  

Play on: Milne, Betts or Rioli

Full Back – Glass / Rutten / Gibson

Why?  All are play the role of the shut down tall defender consistently well.  They have the speed, size and strength to match key forwards, exhibit great core defensive skills – spoiling, covering leads etc., and are able to defend high balls.

Play on: J. Riewoldt, Franklin or Pavlich

First Back Flank – Yarran / Shaw / Murphy

Why? Ideal modern day half backs.  Combine competent core defensive skills with elite attacking attributes.  They are attacking creative players who use their genuine pace and elite skills to set up offensive attacks.  All are good in close and are great decision makers.

Play on: these players would normally be opposed to a defensive forward in an attempt to negate their influence on the game.

Second Back Flank – Hodge / Goddard / Deledio

Why? Ideal medium defenders to play on higher half forwards.  All are particularly skillful players, with a good balance between attack and defence, and have the flexibility to play through the midfield (or other positions to assist with rotations) if needed.

Play on: Johnson, Chapman or O’Keefe

Centre Half Back – Taylor / Fisher / Bock

Why?  Good endurance players for their size.  Can match it with elite running forwards such as Riewoldt or Pavlich and the ability to defend longer leading patterns.  All have good core defensive and kicking skills and work hard to contribute offensively.  

Play on: Cloke, Brown or N. Reiwoldt

Hayden Skipworth is Bendigo Bombers Coach at Essendon FC.  This article was written as part of the requirements of the AFL High Performance Coaching Course. 

Comment on this story

* - required field



Kevin, 16-08-12 15:02:
Once you have your half back line in place do you then consider the next link player down the ground to have similar credentials, and if you dont would you always start them at the HB line rather than further down the field.
Year of Birth
This is Our Game
2017 AFL International Cup