THE mirage of a dramatically improved Richmond has taken just one match to be exposed.
Carlton eclipsed the Tigers in their season-opening clash at the MCG last night and the sound of air rushing out of the Richmond sails might have drowned out the roars of the 78,000 crowd.
Carlton, 0-5 in the pre-season and missing at least two key defenders, showed March form is irrelevant. The Blues were sharper and cleaner when the premiership points went on the line, winning by 44 points.
In all the talk about Richmond improvement, it was forgotten that this was based on defeats of Geelong and Hawthorn in pre-season competition, when the better teams tend to experiment.
The Tigers were not disgraced last night, combative to the end behind the crazy-brave attack on the football of Trent Cotchin in the middle. But they fell short against Carlton yet again, for the eighth time in a row, and it was a reality check of sorts.
The Blues had only one concern, the report of centre half-forward Jarrad Waite for rough play in the opening two minutes.
Waite collided with a hunched-down Dylan Grimes as the Richmond player tried to pick up the football and was immediately free-kicked and booked.
With the match review panel frowning on any head-high contact, he faces a worrying few days before the Blues play Brisbane Lions at the Gabba on Thursday.
Waite has been suspended for rough play as recently as 2010. While he took a couple of big grabs last night, he was beaten by Alex Rance, one of Richmond's best players for the game.
Carlton's defence, supposedly leaky in the absence of Nick Duigan and Michael Jamison, held up nicely and this was one of the significant features of the match. Lachie Henderson (on Jack Riewoldt), Paul Bower (on Brad Miller) and Jeremy Laidler (on Ty Vickery) all performed well, although Riewoldt showed his class by snaring four goals from limited opportunities.
Laidler was heroic in the circumstances, resuming early after dislocating his kneecap in a NAB Cup game.
The Blues had too much skill and panache, with Marc Murphy overcoming a slow start to dominate the second half, Bryce Gibbs mopping up beautifully across half-back and Chris Yarran also sweeping into the open spaces. Yarran's running goal from the boundary in the final quarter not only put the contest beyond doubt, it was an early candidate for goal of the year. Carlton had a dozen goalkickers.