How does your AFLW club stack up in the intercept and clearance games?

There’s a million ways to win a game of football, but only three broad ways to win the ball.

The potential of football is only truly unlocked when a team gains control of the ball. Without the ball, you can’t score.

As HPN has written in the past, football is a game of territory and possession. Today, we look at the latter half of the equation, and how AFLW are gaining possession this year – and how successful teams have done so in years past.

The three ways

Broadly speaking, and as HPN has written about in relation to AFLM in the past, there are three ways a team can gain control of the ball:

  • From a clearance
  • From a interception/turnover
  • From a kick-in after a behind

This article will focus on the first two – broad categories which cover a wide range of discrete situations. An intercept mark is world’s apart from a stolen handball in the forward line; a centre clearance drilled down the throat of a KPF different from a dump kick from a throw in in the backline.

The turnover game

As with the modern AFLM game, turnovers are vital to force and to avoid. In that competition, winning the turnover battle is more important than the clearances – even if it is a little less showy.

Historically, things look similar here. All AFLW grand finalists (and last year’s preliminary finalists) have at least broken even with respect to the turnover game, even as many did not do terribly well in the clearance stakes

This hasn’t changed in 2021.

The six sides inside the finals positions after five rounds are all on the positive side of the intercepts ledger, as are Carlton who sit 8th.

Melbourne are the clear outlier, with the best clearance differential in the league even as they give up more turnovers than they gain.

That coalface prowess is often being squandered, and leading to rebounds against them. However, sides have been able to exploit a less than stellar Dees defence as an errant Melbourne forward line has seemingly been set on beating sides one point at a time.

Switching to look specifically at the intercept game, it’s clear that it always has been difficult to even outscore opponents while losing that dimension of the battle.

Melbourne this year are currently one of only three teams to sit on the ladder with a percentage above 100%, while giving up more intercepts than they gain.

A couple of outliers suggest two teams to watch for improvement in the future. The Tigers this year have edged into positive territory with regards to intercepts, suggesting that the wheel may be starting to turn a little for the yellow and black after a rough AFLW induction.

Meanwhile the Giants last season had their best year to date, an intercept season on par this season’s dominant looking Fremantle side. 2021 hasn’t seen GWS replicate this form, but given the disruptions to their season and list, they might be expected to come back in 2022 more like they did last year, when they made finals and narrowly lost to the Demons.

But what of clearances? Is winning the ball out of the ball ups a lot more than an opponent necessary? It may be better to say that it’s a style that can work for a team, without being vital.

There have been good teams on both sides of the clearance ratio to a greater extent than with intercepts.

The Lions grand final teams, and undefeated Dockers in 2020, didn’t break even at the coalface. Indeed, the inaugural Lions is the worst clearance side on record and still went undefeated in the regular season.

On the other hand, the dominant 2019 Crows and recent editions of the Kangaroos very much present as midfield powerhouses.

So rather than getting drawn into who wins out of the middle after ruck contests, perhaps it is better to focus on who wins across the general flow of play.

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