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Interchange cut for AFL, second-tier comp to trial new zone rule in 2021

The AFL’s head of football Steve Hocking said the changes were required to achieve “a better balance between attack and defence while encouraging more open ball movement” as the downward trend in scoring continued throughout this century.

Hocking would not commit to how much he expected the changes to impact scoring although he acknowledged it was clearly the intent of the changes and said player welfare was front of mind when the AFL decided to reduce the interchange numbers by just 17 per cent.

“What we have aimed to do is create more time and space in the game. A lot of defensive layers have crept in over time,” Hocking said.

He said the competition committee did not consider reducing the number of players on the ground from 18 to 16 as the number was enshrined in the game’s charter. The committee also ruled out introducing a last-touch rule as teams would only set up defensively to counteract its influence.

The radical trial of more zones in the second-tier competition will require a minimum of three pairs of players to be in each of the two 50-metre arcs at boundary throw-ins and kick-ins.

The existing rule, which requires teams to break into six pairs of players in each zone for centre bounces, will remain and run in tandem with the new trial.

The move for a half-reset of player positions at the boundary throw-ins and kick-ins is a significant next step in the push to de-clutter the game with the AFL to research the impact of the shift during 2021.

The AFL said in a statement that the “officiating umpire will not recommence play until all players are in position. Where a team fails to comply at a boundary throw-in, a free kick shall be awarded to the player of the opposing team at the point of the stoppage. Where the attacking team fails to comply at a kick in, a 50-metre penalty shall be awarded to the defending team.”

It is as yet unknown how long players will have to get back in position,but Hocking said the rule would shift player habits, making them more likely to spread across the ground rather than migrating towards the ball.

Ball-ups are not included under the new rule and the AFL also confirmed it would maintain the ruck nomination rule.

An email to clubs from the AFL on Wednesday advising of the rule said the game would have to wait for players to be in position before it resumed, but said details of how it would be umpired would be communicated later. Hocking said he was confident the officials would manage.

He said the AFL had not yet decided how long quarters would be in 2021 after they were reduced from 20 to 16-minute quarters in 2020.

The AFL has been working through potential options for the fixture with clubs and there is a chance the fixture will not be announced until January next year.

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