Jeff Gieschen.

Jeff Gieschen. Photo: Mal Fairclough

AFL umpires boss Jeff Gieschen has added more intrigue to the clash between West Coast and Essendon on Saturday night, declaring the Eagles are playing up high tackles to win free kicks and he understood why clubs had become agitated.

The interpretation of when a head-high tackle should be penalised continued to rage yesterday, this time with confused Geelong coach Chris Scott declaring he was uncertain what was a free kick and what wasn't, while the AFL Players Association urged umpires to act to prevent serious injury.

Players are increasingly turning legal tackles into free kicks by dropping their shoulders or knees, forcing the tackler's arms to slide up to the neck or head, a tactic the Eagles have been criticised for.

With the AFL describing the head as ''sacrosanct'', another tactic of players, from all clubs, has been to charge head-first into opponents.

The Eagles have 52 more free kicks than their opponents this season, with midfielder Luke Shuey and small forward Ashton Hams being awarded the most frees for head-high contact.

''I wouldn't say West Coast are exploiting the rules … I agree that when they get taken high, they are accentuating the fact and showing everybody that they've been taken high,'' Gieschen said yesterday.

Gieschen said umpires had correctly awarded free kicks to the Eagles against North Melbourne on Sunday.

He revealed that umpires had long monitored how players attempted to shrug tackles in the hope of winning a free kick.

''We've watched these very closely over the years. Look, I think we can see from these [against North Melbourne] that the umpire in all these cases had no option but to pay high contact,'' Gieschen said on the AFL website.

''On all these occasions the contact has been high. Yes, the player might have moved a little bit but players with the football are entitled to evade the tackle. But they've all been clearly high.

''We're comfortable with those. But we understand this outcry at the moment about what the Eagles are doing but we think in these cases the umpires' correctly paid free kicks because they've all been taken high.''

But he said a free kick awarded to Hawthorn's Cyril Rioli for charging into Saint Dean Polo on Saturday night was wrong. Polo was so frustrated he also conceded a 50-metre penalty.

''If he's stationary like Polo was, it should be play-on,'' Gieschen said.

Echoing the words of Essendon great Matthew Lloyd in The Age yesterday, AFLPA general manager of player relations, Ian Prendergast, urged the umpires to guard against the threat of serious injury by not rewarding players who charge head-first into an opponent. ''We would encourage umpires to interpret those instances in a way that discourages the act of a player trying to create high contact and put at risk their health and safety,'' he said.

''If the game is officiated in a way that discourages players undertaking those type of actions, players will stop doing it because they realise there is no advantage to it.

''Players are risk takers, they are aggressive, they are warriors. They don't necessarily care about the risk. They just go out and get the results they are looking for, being free kicks.''

Lloyd fears a player who tries to get a free kick by charging into his opponent head-first risks becoming a quadriplegic.

Scott believes the debate had become murky.

''It would be a lot clearer if the umpires actually said to us or the AFL identified which ones were free kicks and which ones were mistakes,'' Scott said.

''There are two distinct issues, there's drawing the free kick by leading with your head, which I think we all accept as dangerous and my understanding of the interpretation is that's that not a free kick if you run into someone with your head. And then the other one is shrugging a tackle.

''I think the two are getting confused. The umpires have got to be clear with us or the umpiring department and let us know which ones are free kicks and which ones aren't. We've heard the umpires … say that you can't duck into a tackle and expect a free kick. If you have the ball and you put your head down into the tackler, that should be called play-on.''

St Kilda forward Justin Koschitzke said it was up to players to tackle correctly.

''You never try and tackle around the head. If you do it properly and you're disciplined, it's not going to be an issue,'' he said.