An AFL edict to look for “two or three” missed free kicks somehow became a torrent at the weekend that has angered clubs.
The average free kicks per game in round 17 was 46, noticeably up on the season average of 36.
It reached a peak on Sunday with 54 when Melbourne took on St Kilda in a game played in miserable conditions which contributed to a series of errors.
But West Coast’s clash with Sydney in Perth, which started just after the Demons-Saints match, had the round’s lowest total of 32.
“We’ve been coaching the last couple of weeks to try to find two or three missed free kicks,” umpires director Wayne Campbell said.
“We certainly didn’t expect the spike that occurred on the weekend.
“We didn’t want it to go from the number it was to the number it got to in the end.”
Campbell said umpires had been directed last week to keep a closer eye on marking contests, 50m penalties and pushes in the back.
Several clubs have complained to the AFL about the increase in free kicks.
Speaking after Saturday night’s narrow loss to Port Adelaide, Essendon coach James Hird said club boss Xavier Campbell was probably sitting in during his media conference to make sure he did not comment on the umpiring.
Essendon’s Shaun McKernan was on the wrong end of some mystifying frees at ruck contests and Hird admitted he felt Essendon had been “unlucky” with free kicks.
But Campbell said he and umpires coach Hayden Kennedy were just as surprised as the club’s about what unfolded.
“We as an umpiring department thought that we were missing two or three free kicks and we want to be consistent and get to that level where the public know what is a free kick and what’s not,” he said.