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Saints have the will but not the skill as Tigers turn back tide

Richmond’s Kane Lambert (left) and Jayden Short pounce on St Kilda’s Jack Lonie on Saturday during the Tigers’ 29-point win. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Saints have the will but not the skill as Tigers turn back tide

Rohan Connolly    

For a few tantalising minutes midway through the third quarter at the MCG on Saturday, St Kilda’s second win of the season was beckoning. Against the reigning premier, no less.

Richmond hadn’t laid into the Saints with the ruthlessness most had anticipated after a rare loss in Perth last week. St Kilda had managed to stay within touching distance all of the first half.

The Tigers had been without concussed spearhead Jack Riewoldt since the five-minute mark of the first term. And valuable defender Bachar Houli since before the first break. And by the time the Saints managed to start converting some opportunities with a run of four goals in just eight minutes for an 11-point lead, a huge upset was most certainly on the cards.

That, sadly for the Saints, proved to be a short-lived purple patch. Richmond, as all good sides do, sensed the alarm bells ringing, and lifted. St Kilda fell back into bad habits. A potential second defeat in a row became for the Tigers a routine 28-point win. And St Kilda’s season of woe continues.

Their skipper Jarryn Geary had spoken seconds before the first bounce about his team pursuing more aggressive, less timid ball movement.

You could see the intent immediately, too. Unfortunately, the Saints’ execution was often at odds with that focus, defensive turnovers costly, and hard-won possession wasted going inside the forward 50.

That was reflected perfectly by the Tigers’ having already taken 10 intercept marks barely halfway through the first term.

In general play, though, the Saints more than held their own. And had the benefit of a couple of breaks of fortune, the most obvious when just five minutes in, Tiger spearhead Jack Riewoldt was concussed when he was collected by Jake Carlisle while taking a mark, not to return for the rest of the day.

On the scoreboard, nevertheless, it remained tight enough, some haphazard defending with a handful of defenders flying against just one opponent costing one of small Tiger forward Dan Butler’s two goals for the quarter.

St Kilda’s well-documented kicking “yips” would continue, too. Tim Membrey, who came into the game with a return of 6.15 for the season, didn’t add to that tally on either count when he sprayed an early shot out on-the-full.

Paddy McCartin, playing in a helmet after his battles with concussion, missed a sitter from just 20-odd metres out in the second term, and with another shot from a gettable angle elected to kick around the corner, also planting the ball wide of either goal or point posts.

It was frustrating stuff for the Saints, who ended up going into half-time facing a 13-point deficit despite having enjoyed nearly 40 more disposals, having almost trebled Richmond’s clearance count and having laid one-third more tackles to the long break.

None of Richmond’s usual match-winners were playing out of their skins, Jayden Short perhaps the Tigers’ most impressive player to half-time.

Seb Ross was arguably winning his battle with Dustin Martin. Jack Steven had been busy, and Jimmy Webster was by some margin the most prolific player on the ground with 23 disposals to half-time.

But St Kilda so often proved its own worst enemy, failing to capitalise on its own chances and giving up costly goals to the Tigers, one with just 19 seconds left on the clock before quarter-time, and again with only a minute-and-a-half remaining in term two.

The Saints needed desperately to straighten up. And suddenly, they did. After 21 inside 50s in the second quarter had yielded just 2.3, by the 14-minute mark of the third term, they’d had seven more entries for 4.1 and led by 11 points.

Jack Billings had the first, backing himself to goal on the run from a tightish angle. Jack Lonie got the second off the back of a goalsquare contest. Jade Gresham repeated that formula for a third. And when the same player kicked his third goal only three minutes later, St Kilda had all the momentum and in the context, a decent lead.

A dodgy free kick saw Jack Newnes gifted the opportunity to increase that advantage to just on three goals. He missed. And now Richmond struck back.

Nick Vlastuin got one back from a free kick for a shepherd in the ruck. Barely a minute later, he had a second after a mark on the goal line, the scores level. And having been given something of a reprieve, the Tigers pounced.

Josh Caddy, ever the opportunist, marked strongly from a long ball to the teeth of goal to put his team seven points up. And Martin executed arguably his first classic “Martin-esque” manoeuvre of the day, collecting a ball outside 50 and striking it sweetly.

That was the cue for the Brownlow medallist to impose himself on proceedings, his start to the final term picking up where that goal had left off. And it also seemed the cue for St Kilda’s own mistakes to haunt them once more.

Martin’s next goal, three minutes into the last quarter, came after a simple mark dropped by Ross. Butler pushed the gap out to 20 points, the biggest gap all game, after Bailey Rice turned one over in the defensive half, the little man again sneaking into the goalsquare to capitalise.

Vlastuin bobbed up for a third, his switch forward having proved pivotal. And after a reply from the Saints, Caddy’s fifth sealed the deal, a sixth following shortly before the final siren.

St Kilda never gave it up. Gresham soon enough, like Caddy, also had a sixth goal in a great performance. The final margin was 28 points, a fifth defeat in a row, but none by more than 39 points.

The Saints had finished with 70-odd more disposals, won the tackle count handsomely and broken even for contested ball and clearances. You couldn’t question their effort. What you could question was their execution.

It’s become a recurring theme for St Kilda. And against a side which has become as efficient as these Tigers, it was always going to prove a fatal flaw.

RICHMOND 3.3 6.4 10.9 15.15 (105)
ST KILDA 2.0 4.3 9.5 12.5 (77)
GOALS – Richmond: Caddy 6, Butler 3, Vlastuin 3, Martin 2, Cotchin. St Kilda: Gresham 6, Membrey 2, Steven, Billings, Lonie, Newnes.
BEST – Richmond: Caddy, Cotchin, Rance, Martin, Short, Butler, Grigg. St Kilda: Gresham, Steven, Ross, Webster, Carlisle, Geary.
INJURIES – Richmond: Riewoldt (concussion), Houli (groin). St Kilda: White (right thigh), Dunstan (right shoulder).
REPORTS: Jake Carlisle (St Kilda) reported for striking Jack Riewoldt (Richmond) in the first quarter.
Umpires: Margetts, Harris, O’Gorman
Crowd: 48,850 at the MCG

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