The AFL says it has received strong backing from coaches for the introduction of the rule that discourages players from leading with their head to draw free kicks.
The AFL’s general manager of football, Mark Evans, said senior coaches had been supportive of the change in the rule, which Evans also sought to clarify, saying the onus of responsibility still lay with the tackler.
‘‘There was some very, very strong support from coaches,’’ said Evans, who announced the change as one of three significant rule changes to the laws of the game.
He said the new rule aimed at discouraging players leading with the head – an issue the AFL identified during the 2013 season – and was backed by members of the laws of the game committee and umpires.
The new rule is designed both to prevent players ducking into tackles and to drive their heads into the body of an opponent to draw a free kick.
Evans said there were two actions that the AFL was seeking to discourage via the rule change. One was ‘‘when a player clearly ducks his head into contact’’, and the other was when a player takes ‘‘a bent position and tries to push through an opponent – that’s what we’d like to discouragement, that movement’’.
The AFL had been concerned about players risking head injuries in attempts to draw free kicks.
In terms of ducking, the new rule simply states that, ‘‘where a player ducks into a tackle and is the cause of high contact, the umpire will call play on’’.
In the other instance, where a player drives his head into ‘‘a stationary or near-stationary player’’, the one who puts his head down and initiates the contact ‘‘shall be regarded as having had prior opportunity’’.
This means that ‘‘if legally tackled following this he will be required to legally dispose of the ball or he will be penalised’’.
But while the rule is a crackdown on ‘‘head-first’’ players who have exploited the successful ‘‘head-over-the-ball’’ rule – the one that placed a duty of care on the player who has an opponent crouched over the ball – Evans clarified the responsibility of the players in the contest.
‘‘The onus of responsibility is on the tackler,’’ he said.
The other two new rules focused on the consequences of bumping and on forceful contact below the knees.
In the latest revision to the bumping rule, a player who elects to bump will be reported/cited for rough conduct if there is a head clash, ‘‘and players will be instructed that a head clash should be reasonably foreseen when bumping’’.
There were instances last year when players, such as North Melbourne’s Lindsay Thomas, elected to bump and injured their opponent via a head clash. Thomas was not cited by the match review panel, on the strict letter of the previous law, even though his opponent, Collingwood’s Ben Reid, was concussed and left the field.
On the below-the-knees rule, there will be a free kick paid ‘‘where a player makes forceful contact below the knees or acts in a manner likely to cause injury, even if contact does not occur’’.