AN AUSTRALIAN RULES PRIMER
What is Australian Rules Football?
Australian Rules football, or ‘footy’ as it is colloquially known, is a physical contact sport unlike any sport played in Canada, but which combines the best elements of Ice Hockey, basketball and football to make for a fast paced, exciting and highly skilled game.
Aussie Rules is generally played on an oval field between 135 and 185 meters in length and 110 and 155 meters in width, although the sizes of grounds do vary. The MCG is considered to be the perfect ground. The boundary is marked with a white line drawn a few meters from the fence and the roaring crowd. At each end of the ground there are four posts consisting of two shorter outer posts and two taller inner posts. The inner posts are called the goal posts, the outer posts are the behind posts.
The ball is an oval bladder covered with smooth leather, tanned for day use or colored visible yellow for night. It is slightly larger and rounder than the American or Canadian ball, as it was not designed to be thrown. The T.W. Sherrin Company, of Collingwood manufactured the famous Sherrin football until the past few years.
PLAYERS & POSITIONS
A team consists of 18 players with four interchange players (substitutes) allowed on the bench. Free substitutions are allowed at any time during the match, through a “gate” in front of either bench. Players are deployed in five lines of three across the oval, with the remaining three players assigned to follow the ball as it moves around the ground.
Each player lines up on his opposite (for example, Fullback on Full forward). The players in each line are usually designated as being in either the left, center or right position in each line, relative to the direction of attack.
The three players assigned to follow the ball as it moves around the ground are known as “followers” Their positions are referred to as:
Ruckman: The Ruckman contests the ‘ball-up’ (Usually very tall and athletic).
Ruck-Rover: The Ruck-rover attempts to receive the ball from the Ruckman and deliver the ball into attack (A good combination of speed and height).
Rover: One of the hardest working players on the ground, the rover traditionally scouts the packs and sets up play by clearing the ball into attack. (Usually small, very fast and never tires)
Although the players have designated positions, they are free to move anywhere on the ground, (no offside rule) when play is in progress. There is no “goalie” in Aussie Rules.
A ball kicked between the two larger goal posts without being touched is a goal and scores 6 points. The ball is then returned to the center circle for a “ball-up.”
If the ball passes between the goal posts by any other means or through the behind posts then it is a behind, and it scores 1 point. If the ball hits the goal post, a behind is scored. If the ball is forced, or carried, but not kicked over the scoring line anywhere between the goal posts, a behind is scored. Following a behind, the ball is kicked back into play from within the goal-square. The opposing fullback usually delivers the kick.
The score is given in three numbers. For example: 8.9 (57). The first number is the number of goals scored, worth 6 points each. The next number is the number of behinds at 1 point each and the final is the sum or the total score.
STARTING THE GAME
The game commences with each player standing in their designated position. The main umpire (referee) bounces the ball in the center of the ground. This can be compared to a tip-off in basketball, and the opposing ruck men leap to gain possession of the ball.
The game then progresses in a wild free-for-all until a goal is scored and the ball returns to the center for another bounce.
POSSESSION AND DISPOSAL OF THE BALL
Kicking can pass the ball quickly and effectively. This is different from American Football in that a kicking tee is never used and a kick is often taken while the player is running at or near full speed.
The ball may not be thrown, but is passed by holding it stationary in one hand, while punching it with the free hand.
Aussie Rules is a physical game, and players can be either ‘bumped,” from the ball using the hip and shoulder (left) or tackled by grabbing any where above the knee or below the neck (right).
A “mark” is another name for a catch, and can be taken over the head or against the chest. The ball cannot touch the ground, and must travel at least ten meters in the air. A mark entitles a player to an uncontested disposal of the ball. Marks are one of the spectacular elements of the game, as players’ leap up on opponents backs to take ‘screamers’.
Yes, there are some rules too! Some of the main rules are:
- You cannot push a player in the back while he has the ball.
- You cannot run more than 15 meters with the ball without bouncing it or touching it to the ground.
- You must make a reasonable attempt to dispose of the ball.
- You cannot tackle a player not in possession of the ball.
- Finally, rough play outside of the laws of the game is severely penalized.
This has been a brief description of the game. As with all sports, the best way to understand it is to either watch it, or even better by, getting involved!
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