Lance Franklin threat prompts tag team defence

Lance Franklin in red and white is proving more dangerous than his last days in brown and gold, and opposition clubs are switching to more sophisticated methods to curb his influence.

Franklin has looked unstoppable at times this year, and it appears that teams are now taking the “Nick Riewoldt approach” to try to keep him on check.

Richmond is taking the “Buddy” test on Friday night, fully aware that the difference between Franklin being good or great will be crucial to the match at the MCG.

To underline the task facing Damien Hardwick and his team, an analysis of Franklin’s last two-and-a-half seasons shows that a big game from Buddy can be lethal.

Since the start of 2012, Franklin’s team has won 29 out of the 30 games in which he has kicked three goals or more.

It is a trait John Longmire is glad the superstar brought with him to Sydney; Franklin has turned the trick in six games for six wins already this season.

Franklin is four from four over the past month and back to his best, yet it is significant that Richmond now stands in the way given the Tigers cracked the Buddy code in his last two years at Hawthorn.

With key defender Alex Rance drawing the primary assignment, Franklin has managed just one goal in each of his last two games against the Tigers; on both occasions Richmond claimed an upset to re-energise its season.

Hardwick said he was prepared to “back in” Rance to again shut down Franklin. ‘‘Alex has got an impressive record on Buddy the last couples of times he’s played, but that by no means guarantees that Buddy is going to have a quiet game,’’ Hardwick said.

While there is a chance the Tigers could attach Rance to Franklin and tell him to go where Buddy goes, other teams have changed their approach towards combatting his awesome package of reach, strength and athleticism.

Two assistant coaches quizzed by Fairfax Media said clubs were now opting for the “handover approach” used to curtail Riewoldt when his powers to burn taller opponents up the ground and then out-mark smaller opponents inside 50 were at their peak.

Instead of trusting the best all-round match-up for Franklin, clubs are picking one defender best suited to go with him aerobically when he is playing “high”, and then “hand over” to a defender better suited to handling him for strength when he moves closer to goal.

Ideally, the opposition would also have a third tall defender who could tag team with the “high” man, a ploy Geelong used with its key trio Harry Taylor, Tom Lonergan and Jared Rivers in round 11, albeit unsuccessfully.

It wasn’t so long ago that several respected judges declared that Franklin’s best was behind him, but the four-time All-Australian has proved the doubters wrong and Hardwick, who was an assistant coach at Hawthorn for five years, said he believed the star goal-kicker had actually improved since moving to Sydney.

“It’s probably the first time I’ve seen him be a real dominant force in contested marking, which from my time at Hawthorn, was never a strength of his,” Hardwick said.

Franklin took 86 marks in 21 games as a Hawk in 2013 and just 26 were contested. (He did not take a contested mark during the finals series).

This season, he has already hauled in 60 marks from 13 games, 15 which have been contested.

Former Richmond champion Matthew Richardson told Fairfax Media late last year that he believed Franklin would emerge from his slumber and have a break-out year in 2014.

A Fairfax Media report last October predicted that 27-year-old Franklin was entering the right age for a key forward, pointing out that Riewoldt, Matthew Pavlich, Adam Goodes, Jonathan Brown, Barry Hall and Warren Tredrea had all won their club’s best and fairest at age 26 or 27, while Richardson was a runner-up at 27.

While Franklin may not ever reach the dizzying heights of 2008 when he kicked 102 goals, he is perhaps just as damaging, ranking fifth in the AFL for scoreboard impact, despite a slow start to the year.

The fact that his buddy (so to speak) Kurt Tippett is not playing on Friday night will make it easier for Richmond because it limits the Swans’ capacity to mix Sam Reid, Adam Goodes and a conveyor belt of resting midfielders into a deadly cocktail.

Sydney has brought in its first-round pick from the 2013 draft, midfielder Zak Jones, to make his debut and recalled ruckman Mike Pyke for the match against Richmond.

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