Essendon coach Ben Rutten has called for greater umpiring consistency in the aftermath of his team’s brave loss to the ladder-leading Melbourne on Saturday night.
A chorus of boos swirled around the MCG at halftime and on the final siren, after Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti was denied a holding the ball free kick that would have resulted in a simple shot on goal.
McDonald-Tipungwuti caught Melbourne’s James Harmes — who didn’t appear to dispose of the ball legally — in the game’s dying stages, but a non-call ensured the Demons held on for victory.
The umpiring across the entire AFL has been deplorable this year, not just tonight. As previously great umpires retire, the replacements just aren’t up to it. Just pure incompetence that isn’t corrected because the league is too worried about feelings. #AFLDonsDees
— Chris De Silva (@cdesilva23) June 26, 2021
Dangerous tackle. LOL. This umpire is having an absolute laugh #AFLDonsDees
— Ronny Lerner (@RonnyLerner) June 26, 2021
Damn umpires are shocking tonight and that’s for both sides.#AFLDonsDees
— Basil Zoccali (@BasilZoccali) June 26, 2021
Rutten was wary of his wording post-match, but suggested a more consistent approach to officiating was integral to umpiring success.
“We know it’s a tough game to umpire,” Rutten said.
“It’s not a perfect game, but I think we just want to make sure that there’s consistency. The players will adapt, the coaches will adapt, so long as there is consistency.
“If the free kicks are there, they should be paid. I think that’s the most important bit.”
Rutten also implied the contentious play-on call was a key moment in the game, but stopped short of blaming the decision for Essendon’s loss.
“In those tight games we look at all those sorts of moments, just as we’re looking at all those moments that we could have potentially done better, or we might like our time again,” he said.
“I don’t think it was a reason why we lost the game.”
Despite the loss, Essendon’s ability to challenge the league’s top side has the head coach buoyed, who pointed to composure as the decisive factor in the game.
“The (players) tried their hearts out (and) they fought for each other, from the first bounce right to the end, which we’re really proud of as a football club, but they identified there were some opportunities where execution let us down a little bit,” he said.
“I thought there were some opportunities, especially in that last quarter, for us to connect a bit better inside 50 and potentially hit the scoreboard and put it a bit more pressure on Melbourne, but we just weren’t quite able to find that connection inside 50.”
Essendon’s late surges forward were often met with the intercepting prowess of Jake Lever and Steven May, who ultimately proved the protagonists in denying the Bombers a comeback victory.
“Those guys have been doing it all year, so we know that they’re very good at that,” Rutten said.
“In a tight game where our guys are tired, when we’re down on the scoreboard, that’s where our growth is as a group, to be able to understand that they’re the moments that we really need that composure and that ability to stick to our method of play.
“We’ve still got some growth and we’ve got a way to go.”