Most afternoons I get to sit and watch a game with the express purpose of reviewing an entire game, but with those duties today falling to the most esteemed Mr. Ed Hurley for the Carlton v Western Bulldogs clash, I was lucky enough to be able to sit and view the game through a different lens.
Rather than focus on the game as a whole, and there was plenty at stake in this one, I was able to sit back and narrow my focus on a duel that has enthralled the footy public since they were taken nine picks apart in the 2013 National Draft.
You could argue that no team is reliant more on one player than Carlton is on Patrick Cripps. He is their major ball-winner and on-field leader, particularly so since Sam Docherty went down in the pre-season for the second consecutive year. He is a bull, a monster in the contest, and runs all day long.
But Marcus Bontempelli’s influence on the Western Bulldogs simply cannot be denied. Injuries may have curtailed his last couple of years, but as we entered round five, the Bont was averaging career-high numbers. Things seemed prime for an epic clash of two of the best young footballers in the game.
These two are two peas in a very small pod; contested footy beasts with only Nat Fyfe, Josh Kennedy and Clayton Oliver able to hang with them in close, but rarely do we ever get to see players of this magnitude go head to head. At the first bounce today, there was Patrick Cripps standing next to Marcus Bontempelli.
And we were off!
The two men started side by side – those thinking there is no personal investment in their duel do not know much about footy, or personal pride. As they came together at the first bounce, they had a body to body clash but neither gained possession.
Cripps was everywhere in the first quarter. Not only was he the dominant stoppage player, the Blues looked for him when they got their hands on it. Though the Dogs tried the same with Bont, he was punished by their poor delivery. He should have received a wide open pass between wing and half forward, but errant kicking – the story of the Dogs’ day – saw the Blues arrive on the scene and in the end it was Cripps knocking the ball away to his team’s advantage.
On paper, you have to clearly give the first quarter to Cripps. 13 touches, five clearances and four score involvements are full-game stats for many players. His ability to get first hands on the ball makes him look like a man playing against boys at times.
Bont was sent forward, with mixed results halfway through the quarter. He didn’t get a touch until after Cripps’ fifth possession but moved back into the guts with five minutes to go and finished with three clearances of his own and four score involvements, including a direct goal assist.
Looking at the contest, in the few genuine contests they had, Cripps’ body strength was evident. Though Bont is more than capable of winning clearances and contested ball, moving Cripps off the spot is an unenviable task
Perhaps the lowlight for Bont in the first was when he failed to stick a tackle in defensive 50, allowing Marc Murphy to snap a goal to get the Blues off and running.
First quarter stats.
Cripps – 13 Disposals, 6 Contested Possessions, 5 Clearances, 4 Score Involvements. 85% efficiency. 92 Metres Gained
Bont – 7 Disposals, 5 Contested Possessions, 3 Clearances, 4 Score Involvements, 57% efficiency, 205 Metres Gained
The first two minutes of game time after quarter time were Cripps at his brilliant best. Four touches and a clearance emphasised his value to carlton as the heat was on, but just as impressive was his defensive efforts on Bont on the wing later in the quarter. He simply would not allow the star Bulldogs any space to work into to provide an option and stayed body to body with him as the Dogs looked for a defensive exit. That is the stuff of a leader.
Conversely, on a turnover, there was simply no chase from Bont. Is he at full fitness? If so, there’s no excuse for turning and walking with the ball ten metres away.
There were a couple of secondary possessions for each of the two as the other was engaged in defensive actions on someone else. As Bont tackled and the ball spilled, Cripps picked it up and released, then the opposite occurred as Cripps dragged down a Bulldog. We’ll call that a stalemate.
Interestingly, to half time there were no cheap possessions for either player, which is both great, and not so great. Great inasmuch as what we were seeing was a competitive hit out for each bloke, without the inflated stats of behind the ball accumulation. Not so great inasmuch as these two should be looked after by their teammates a little more, and fed behind the ball whenever possible. With these two teams, it doesn’t happen, which may be indicative as to why they’re not winning – they don’t get the ball in the hands of the guys who can make things happen often enough.
In fairness, Bont being thrown forward impacts his ability to be influential in the middle considerably and is reflected in his overall stats, but with Naughton not getting a touch (pretty close to literally), the Dogs needed someone who could contest and take a mark.
Bont two misses on shots at goal – if he kicks them, the Cripps v Bont battle comes back somewhere near even, but two misses mean this game belonged to Cripps at half time.
Second quarter stats
Cripps – 13 Disposals, 2 Contested Disposals, 2 Clearances, 1 Score Involvement, 13 Metres Gained
Bont – 4 Disposals, 2 Contested Disposals, 1 Clearance, 0 Sciore Involvements, 110 Metres Gained
It was interesting that both were in the centre at the first bounce, but unlike the first half, were opposed to someone else entirely. Bont used that booming kick to gain distance a couple of times, and drive the Dogs inside 50, and when he did that quick, the Dogs actually looked dangerous – they just couldn’t convert.
Cripps was used as the marking option from kick ins and is so powerful that stopping him in the air is a nightmare. He even took the ruck against Tim English at one point and easily muscled him out of the contest to take clean possession.
Bont seemed as though he was forced to compete overhead way more than he should, either as a forward target, or around the ground.
Again some hard defensive running by Cripps to ensure Bont didn’t get an easy possession across half back was impressive, but Bont did have a good five minute period toward the end of the quarter.
It was more of a subdued quarter by both men.
Third Quarter Stats
Cripps – 7 Disposals, 7 Contested Disposals, 4 Clearances, 0 Score Involvements, -3 Metres Gained… which means a lot of backward possessions, huh?
Bont – 7 Disposals, 2 Contested Disposals, 2 Clearances, 2 Score Involvements, 118 Metres Gained.
Five minutes into the quarter, it became garbage time. Bont started hot, with four touches in the first two and a half minutes, trying to make the move to get his team back into it, but with inaccuracy cutting the throat of the Bulldogs, you can’t blame him for putting his cue in the rack.
Speaking of tapering off, Cripps did so in a big way. With a career high of 38 disposals beckoning, he looked like a bloke who knew his team was over the line, in no small part due to his efforts. It’s a great sign that, with a personal achievement well within his grasp, Cripps didn’t chase the stats to get it.
Both players had a 7-8 minute period with no touches, before Bont drifted to half back to pick up a few touches to round out his game.
Final Quarter Stats
Cripps – 4 Disposals, 1 Contested Disposal, 0 Clearances, 1 Score Involvement, -20 Metres Gained (more backwards possessions)
Bont – 6 Disposals, 1 Contested Disposal, 1 Clearance, 2 Score Involvements, 136 Metres Gained
THE WASH UP
Cripps’ work was well and truly done by three quarter time, and it was obvious that his hand was raised as the winner not only of the midfield battle, but in his battle against Bont.
His ball-winning ability at stoppages set him apart, but don’t discount the fact that his help was of a higher standard. Jack Macrae, Libba and Lachie Hunter all provided little in the way of support for their star, whereas Sam Petrevski-Seton went some way to repaying the Carlton faith with a career-high 35 touches, and arguably a best on ground performance. Zac Fisher and Sam Walsh also rose to the occasion.
I wonder how much the heavy collision with Easton Wood impacted Cripps later in the game. He got up and shook it off, courageously, but it was a hard knock and may have been a factor in Cripps taking his foot off the gas late.
If this were a prize fight, Cripps landed the big blows early, staggering Bont to the point where he was forced to hold on to stop the flurry of punches. As the bell rang to end the first, and second rounds, Cripps was well ahead on points, and Bont needed to land a couple of knockout punches in terms of goals to bring his team back.
Credit the Carlton defence for denying him those opportunities.
Cripps was the unanimous winner in this one on points, playing out time in the final round. But Bont will get his rematch… and a chance to turn the tables.
In the battle within the battle, Cripps was able to power his team to an impressive win. Bont, though not disgraced, was clearly beaten. If his forwards had stood up and allowed him to spend the majority of time in the guts, maybe the contest could have been closer.
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