The form – Hawthorn

The Hawks were below their best against the Cats on Monday and General Manager – Football Operations, Chris Fagan admitted the Club was disappointed with the performance but how much did that have to do with Geelong’s pressure?

While they finished with a disposal efficiency rating of 72 per cent at the end of the game, the Hawks lacked their usual polish by foot, particularly out of defence.

But overall, the Hawks have started their season well, having won four of their first five games and in that time, playing particularly impressive footy against Essendon, Fremantle and Gold Coast.

Not to mention the Hawks haven’t lost two games in a row since rounds four and five of 2012.

The form – Richmond

After breaking through for their first finals appearance in 12 years last year, the Tigers have had an inauspicious start to the season, having won just two of their first five matches.

One of those wins came against the Lions in Brisbane last Thursday night, a timely form boost for the likes of Jack Riewoldt, Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin who have been below their best to start the season but all of whom performed well against the Lions.

But disappointing performances and results against Collingwood and Western Bulldogs can’t be ignored, with the Tigers lacking their usual run and spark that made them a good side in 2013.

They’re not taking as many risks but teams too, have worked out that if you stop their free-wheeling style of footy, the Tigers aren’t as dangerous.

Recent history

Despite Hawthorn’s dominance in 2012 and 2013, Richmond has been the side they’ve struggled against and have actually lost their last two matches in a row.

In Round 19 last year, the Hawks fell to the Tigers at a wet MCG by 41 points and the year before, lost by 62 points also at a wet MCG in Round 9.

The Hawks haven’t beaten the Tigers since Round 3, 2011, when they won by 63 points at the MCG.

But Hawthorn actually has the better of the past five meetings despite the last two losses, having won the matches played in 2011, 2010 and 2009.

Where is Richmond’s strength?

There were a few whispers around when Shaun Hampson was recruited to Richmond but that move now looks like a brilliant one for the Tigers.

With Ivan Maric out with injury, Hampson has emerged as statistically, the best tap ruckman in the competition with 37 per cent of his hit outs to the advantage of a teammate.

His season average is 13.5 hit outs to advantage from his 36.5 average hit outs per game. Of his 52 hit outs against the Lions last week, 18 of those were to the advantage of a teammate an unsurprisingly, the Tigers won the clearances 45-41.

The Tigers are the best clearance team in the competition, averaging 45 per game and are ranked equal second for centre clearances, with an average of 14.6 per game. Their most dangerous players at the stoppages are Captain Trent Cotchin (averages 6.4 clearances per game), Daniel Jackson (6.3), Matt Thomas (5) and Reece Conca (4.3).

But what has let them down so far this season is their polish when they get the ball and their efficiency going forward.

The Tigers are ranked 10th in the league for effective disposal efficiency and seventh for forward 50 entries with an average of 52.4 per game but they don’t make the most of their chances when they get it forward of centre.

Richmond score on average 64.4 per cent of the time they go inside forward 50 – compare that to Hawthorn’s of 82.7 per cent.

Hawthorn’s forward line

It’s little wonder why Hawthorn score so often when they get the ball inside 50 when their potency and elite skills by hand and foot are concerned.

But Monday’s return of 12.15 was their lowest of the season, with Jarryd Roughead, Cyril Rioli, David Hale and Paul Puopolo failing to fire on the score board thanks to the pressure from Geelong’s midfield and their backline’s ability not to get caught one out.

But Hawthorn have kicked more points than any other team in the opening five rounds and you’d expect them to kick a big score on Sunday if they can get on top in the middle.

Luke Breust and Jack Gunston lead the way for goal at Hawthorn this season with 15 and 13 respectively, while Roughead has kicked 13. There are a number of different options inside 50 and keeping them all quiet is a challenge. Even Geelong struggled, with Breust and Gunston kicking six goals between them.

Those options could stretch the Richmond defence, particularly the talls. David Astbury has done a great job on the likes of Travis Cloke so far this season and Troy Chaplin has been okay but Dylan Grimes is still young and Alex Rance has been out injured.

Even their small defenders have been exposed this season, with Steven Morris probably their only true lock down defender and unfortunately, Rioli and Breust require close checking.

The pressure game

Alastair Clarkson is the master at getting his forwards to be the first line of defence – after all, he invented that tactic that has since taken on a new form in 2008.

Richmond have turned the ball over in defence when under pressure so far this season and consequently, are no longer taking the game on through the middle like they did last season.

Bachar Houli is one who has been down on form and Brandon Ellis started the year well but has since dropped away.

Hawthorn would be aware of that and will look to lock the ball in their forward half for the majority of the game to put the Tiger defence under immense pressure.

But Richmond, in the past haven’t been worried by Hawthorn’s pressure and ability to hurt you on the turnover but have instead been daring and hurt the Hawks with their run through the middle to catch them out defensively inside their forward 50.

But clean disposal by foot is needed to achieve that, something the Tigers have struggled with so far this season and Hawthorn leave no stone unturned in winning the ball back from their opposition and hurting them on the rebound.