Sometimes less is more and that’s certainly proved to be the case for Richmond’s defensive unit this AFL season.
Less Alex Rance that is.
The superstar defender’s decision to take a small step back and let other members of the Tigers’ back line take the lead more often in pre-season has paid huge dividends.
The league’s third-best defence conceded 1684 points this season — a whopping 471 fewer than last year.
And Richmond had scores of more than 100 points kicked against them just twice — by Adelaide in round 6 and St Kilda in round 16.
“Alex is just an extraordinary player, an absolute warrior, but underneath him, in the past, we’ve probably been a little bit skinny,” Tigers fullback David Astbury told AAP.
“So he made it his mission in the pre-season to try to put more responsibility on me and Dylan Grimes and others to allow us to really grow and develop.
“In the past he’s probably just wanted to fix everything but it’s too hard to do for any one person.
“It’s a credit to him. He probably had to take a back seat and allow me or someone else to take over (in meetings or training) and that’s allowed us to get up to speed.
“I think as a group we’re really connected and bonded together as a result.”
Astbury has thrived with the extra responsibility, along with the growing belief that he’s well and truly over the injuries that threatened his career.
The 26-year-old played every game this season — the first time he’s managed that feat since he debuted in 2010.
From the 2011 season through to 2015, he was restricted to just 24 senior appearances due to a horror run with injuries, which included two dislocated kneecaps.
“I was probably fighting a losing battle with myself at different stages … trying to do too much and trying to progress too quickly,” he said.
“It was all in the spirit of trying to get back and play senior football, but the frustration that mounted at different stages was almost overwhelming.
“But I had excellent support from the club.
“I think the key for me has been continuity of playing over a couple of years now.
“Your confidence grows the more you play and when you’re surrounded by the people that I am you just feel really supported.
“Going out there each week is more enjoyable now than it ever has been.”