Player Watch #1: Nick Vlastuin

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Club Legend
Nov 26, 2015
AFL Club
(from the HeraldSun)

David King says Nick Vlastuin is the only Tiger who can fill the void left by the injured Alex Rance
March 27, 2019

It is universally agreed that an injured Rance cannot be replaced and that the “system” is the sole reason Richmond can still win the 2019 premiership.

But the problem is that the “Richmond system” became what it is because of Rance.



The superstar defender has won the football back for the Tigers on average 200 times a season over the past five years — this is 180 intercepts more than the AFL’s second-best rated player. A large portion of those intercepts happen when Rance is assisting one of his fellow back six defenders.

In my opinion there’s only one man at Tigerland who can bridge this intercepting gulf and that man is Nick Vlastuin.

Put simply, Vlastuin must become Luke Hodge in his prime if Richmond is to win this year’s flag.

Vlastuin possesses Hodge-like courage and composure, and has all the tools to become Richmond’s elite interceptor.
With Alex Rance out, Nick Vlastuin has become more important to the Tigers than ever. Picture: Michael Klein
Dylan Grimes and David Astbury are tremendous defenders but more classically suited to one-on-one contests.

Vlastuin’s point of difference is his speed to cover the ground, giving him the capability to assist fellow defenders more often.

The Tigers rely on an aggressive forward-half press to score which runs the risk of getting exposed out the back by an opponent’s counter punch.

The Tigers recent successful period is based on the bedrock of scoring from forward-half intercepts at a greater rate than any other team — about six goals a game over the past two football seasons.

But is this level of forward-half aggression (and reward) still sustainable without Rance?

The basic mechanics of Richmond’s defensive method is about each defender controlling the oppositions’ leading lanes.
They do this by positioning themselves in front of their opposing forward, denying an easy lead/mark opportunity.

They’re always at a consistent distance from each other, almost top and tailing each opposition forward.

Some clubs refer to this method as a “one-and-a-half defence”, which is where one defender can influence multiple contests from this starting point.

It’s a game of cat and mouse but on a larger scale.

The danger is that when the “one-and-a-half defence” fails, the opposition can then play leapfrog and stroll into goal.

Rance’s “one-and-a-half defence” separation or space that he allows his opponent is greater than most.

But his speed to close in on other contests is quicker than most and he is without peer in his ability to get back to his direct opponent when he’s guessed incorrectly.

The challenge of orchestrating a defensive unit that can forge forward without Rance falls on the shoulders of the Tigers defensive coach Justin Leppitsch.

Leppitsch’s reputation as the “key-defenders whisperer” will be an ongoing watch throughout the year.

Rance learnt the lion’s share of his defensive craft under the tutelage of Leppitsch during his first stint at Tigerland.
Alex Rance is likely to miss the entirety of 2019. Picture: Michael Klein
Noah Balta and Ryan Garthwaite will undergo a similar education process but given their lack of experience and genuine know-how it would be a stretch to expect immediate impact let alone excellence.

Can Richmond continue its aggression from clearances given the Alex Rance safety net is no longer there?

Do they need to alter their method to cope?

It may just be suck-and-see for the next three to four weeks. If it doesn’t work, tinkering or wholesale change is required.

Since the start of 2017 the Tigers have lost the clearance battle by an average of three clearances a game, which is the AFL’s worst return.

Their midfield still creates a positive clearance scoring profile, one that has outscored their opposition by an average four points, rating sixth in the AFL.

Damien Hardwick and his coaching crew clearly have assessments to make over the next month or so and time will tell as to the enormity of change required, if any.

Rance cannot be replaced.

The significance of replacing him cannot be underestimated but Richmond’s team defence needs a focal point interceptor to become a standout elite contributor.

If Vlastuin cannot become a Luke Hodge-esque figure, then Richmond won’t be winning this year’s Cup.

Richmond will still win loads of home-and-away matches but at the pointy end of the season all flaws are identified and exposed.

Tonight, Mason Cox or the Magpie clearance game just may highlight the chasm between Richmond with Rance versus Richmond without Rance.

Dr Tigris

Premium Platinum
Aug 19, 2009
AFL Club
Yes, Vlastuin is awesome.

Does he need to become an all time star? Hmm. If he changes his focus to fill in more of Rances role then all good. Otherwise … lots of words that sounds sort of intelligent. But not sure what it says other than Rance is brilliant and replacing him will be very very hard.

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Mar 9, 2007
way over yonder
AFL Club
Other Teams
Cheddar AFC
Otherwise … lots of words that sounds sort of intelligent.
That's what I took out of it. We already know he's irreplaceable. Everyone with just a passing knowledge of the game knows that. If there's one backline in the league that could possibly still do well without him, it's ours.

Dr Tigris

Premium Platinum
Aug 19, 2009
AFL Club
They're not even the same type of defender, what a terrible article.

Dimma has said 50 billion times that not one player can replace Rance.
It's the system. Against the Pies we don't need that extra KPD, so we've gone small. But Garth is next in line for KPD. Balta will get games I'd say. I suspect that hasn't the endurance to run games out, so they're picking games.

We've got a great system and an elite back group still. We change our set up slightly for the opposition and fill the Rance hole in different ways.


Jan 4, 2002
AFL Club
Other Teams
Not any more. 100 games from one of the best and most underrated backmen in the game. Well played tiger.

Seriously though, how awesome is this backline now...


Best in the league by the width of Daisy's forehead.
vlossy STILL young enough for another grooming as a part timer in our midfield rotations, a lot of 'luke parkers' about him.

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