Interchange (Australian rules football)

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The Carlton interchange bench in a match against St Kilda, 2011.

Interchange (or, colloquially, the bench or interchange bench) is a team position in Australian rules football, consisting of players who are part of the selected team but are not currently on the field of play. A player who is on the interchange bench is said to be "off the ground".

Interchange numbers[edit]


Beginning from 2011, at AFL level, each team is permitted three interchange players and one substitute player.

An interchange takes place when a player leaves the field and is replaced by one of the three players on the bench, The number of interchanges made in Australian football is capped at 120 as of the 2014 season; teams are not limited to the number of times they may make changes as long as they do not surpass 120 interchanges, players have no limit to the number of times they may be changed, and an interchange can occur at any time during the game, including during gameplay.

A fourth player sits on the bench, known as the substitute. He begins the game wearing a green vest over his playing guernsey. He may not enter the field of play, nor be interchanged while wearing the green vest. At any time during the game, he may be substituted for one of the other players in the team - either on the ground or on the bench. He takes off his green vest, and the player he substitutes puts on a red vest. The player in the red vest may take no further part in the game. Teams are limited to a single substitution per game. A player may be substituted for tactical reasons or to replace an injured player; the substitute may also be temporarily activated, for up to twenty minutes, while a team-mate undergoes a concussion test.[1]

The three players named on the interchange bench and the one substitute named in the teamsheet, which is submitted ninety minutes before the commencement of the game, must be the three interchange players and the substitute who start on the bench, however they may be substituted immediately if the coach wishes.

Other leagues[edit]

Interchange rules are not uniform across all leagues. In the major state leagues, as of 2011, following interchange numbers are permitted:

Representative teams (such as State of Origin teams), practice and exhibition matches often feature an extended interchange bench of up to six or eight players.

Interchange protocol[edit]

In front of the interchange benches is the interchange area (sometimes called the interchange gate), which is a 15 metre stretch of the boundary line, roughly centred between the two teams' benches, through which all players must enter and exit the ground when being interchanged. It is marked on the boundary line with two short lines, perpendicular to the boundary, and sometimes with a slanted end. A player who interchanges outside of this area is not permitted to return for the rest of the game.[4]

Where a players leaves the ground on a stretcher, he is permitted to take the most direct route to the changerooms for medical treatment, and is still permitted to return later in the game; however, where he leaves on a stretcher, the player must wait for 20 minutes of playing time (the length of one regulation quarter) before returning. If a stretcher is brought onto the ground but the player ultimately does not need to use it, he must still wait for 20 minutes before returning.[5]

Due to new AFL concussion rules, effective from 2011 onwards, any player that is concussed must come off and is not allowed to return to the field for the remainder of the game.

A player may be forced to make an interchange by the umpire under the blood rule. If an umpire sees a player bleeding, he will call time-on at the next appropriate time, stopping play until the player has left the field and been replaced.

Where the league has a provision to do so, an interchange steward is provided to monitor interchanges.

Policing interchanges[edit]

Head count[edit]

The primary means for controlling interchanges in most leagues (but not in the AFL) is via a Head Count, currently detailed in Law 5.5 of the game. To initiate this procedure, a team captain must request a head count from the umpire. The umpire, at the opportunity, will call time on, and all players from both teams line will line-up in the centre of the ground to be counted by the umpires.

If either team has more players on the ground than it should, the general rule is that the team's entire score to that point of the game is cancelled, and a free kick and 50-metre penalty are paid to the opposing captain from the centre of the ground or the spot of the ball. Not all leagues automatically impose a cancellation of the score; in some cases – including the modern day Victorian Football League[6] – the progress score at the time of the head count is recorded, and league officials meet after the game to assess whether or not to retrospectively cancel the score.[7]

If both teams have the correct number of players, a free kick and 50-metre penalty are paid against the captain who initiated the head count; that captain may also be reported for time-wasting and sent off (should the rules of the league permit) if the umpire believes the captain's primary reason for calling the head count was to waste time.[5]

Head counts are rare at the top levels of the sport, but occur from time to time at suburban, country and junior levels.

Famous head counts[edit]

The most famous head-count request occurred in the SANFL in Round 15, 1975. West Torrens' champion Fred Bills, playing the last of his 313 league games (having announced his retirement earlier that week) entered the field of play before John Cassin, who was injured and lying on a stretcher, had left it. This prompted West Adelaide, trailing 11.7 (73) to 12.10 (82) in the final quarter, to request a head count.[8] West Torrens players ran for the boundary line, while West Adelaide players wrestled with them to keep them in bounds. One player, identified in the match report published in The Advertiser as Norm Dare,Note 1[8] managed to leap the fence and hide under a supporter's coat to avoid detection from the umpire. Ultimately, the count was abandoned when it became impossible to vouch for who was on the field at the time of the request; West Torrens went on to win by three goals. The incident was celebrated as one of the sport's 150 greatest moments in the 150th year celebrations in 2008.[9]

There have been only three head counts, all unsuccessful, in the history of the VFL/AFL:

Notable successful head counts around the country are listed in the table below.

League Club penalised Opponent Match Score at count Count time Final score Report
VFA Richmond Essendon Round 9, 1896 3.3 – 2.4 3rd quarter 1.4 – 9.9 [11]
VFA North Melbourne Preston 1911 47 – 13 2nd quarter 69 – 48 [12]
VFA Prahran Brighton Round 10, 1921 26 – 17 1st quarter 34 – 34 [13]
VFA Northcote Yarraville Centenary Cup, 1977 89 – ?? 4th quarter 20 – 154 [14]
O&KFL Moyhu Whorouly 2008 First Semi-Final 15–22 2nd quarter 9–81 [1]
BL&GFA Barossa District Willaston 2011 First Semi-Final 59–59 4th quarter 6–81 [2]
VFL Frankston North Ballarat Round 14, 2013 38 – ?? 3rd quarter 23 – 64 [6]

Interchange Infringement Penalties[edit]

In Round 6, 2008, North Melbourne and Sydney played a controversial drawn match, in which a botched interchange late in the game left Sydney with 19 men on the field for about a minute, during which time the Swans scored the game-tying behind. Although the laws of the game allowed for Sydney's players to be fined $2500 each for the mistake, there could be no effect on the match result because North Melbourne had not called for a head count. This highlighted the impracticality of the Head Count rule, which had existed since the days before interchanges or substitutions were allowed, in the modern professional league with its rapid use of interchanges for fatigue management.[15]

A few weeks after this incident, the AFL introduced a new rule, allowing the interchange steward to inform the umpires of interchange errors: specifically, when a player enters the field before the player he is replacing has left the field, or when a player is interchanged without using the interchange gate. In each case, the penalty is a free kick and a 50-metre penalty in the centre of the ground (or, at the spot of the ball at the time); in the case of a player not using the interchange gate, this penalty replaces the previous rule that the player would not be permitted to return. Any goals or behinds scored or free kicks given to the opposition when an interchange infringement has occurred get cancelled out.

This process is seen only at the professional AFL level; lower levels of the sport still rely on the head count rule to police interchanges. Additionally, AFL captains retain the right to call for a head count if they believe an interchange infringement has not been detected by the interchange steward, but this has not yet been exercised under the new rules.[16]

Historical interchange rules and tactics[edit]

In the VFL/AFL, the number of interchanges allowed has followed the following time-line:

  • Prior to 1930 – there was no means for either substitution or interchange. A team played with 17 on the field (19 prior to 1899) if a player was injured.
  • 1930 – the introduction of a single substitute
  • 1946 – the introduction of a second substitute
  • 1978 – the replacement of two substitutes with two interchanges
  • 1994 – the introduction of a third interchange
  • 1998 – the introduction of a fourth interchange
  • 2011 – the replacement of four interchanges with three interchanges and a substitute
  • 2014 – the addition of an interchange cap at 120

This time-line is for the VFL/AFL only, and there has not necessarily been uniformity between it and the other leagues in the country.

Historically, the interchange bench was used sparingly, and mostly to take poor-performing or players who were injured and unable to continue out of the game. There was a marked change in this at the top level as professionalism grew in the sport between 2000–2010, and the interchange bench began to be used much more frequently as a means of rotating players to manage player fatigue through the game and offer rest periods for hard working players and game time for young/old players. The average number of interchanges in the AFL doubled between 2007 (56 changes per team per game) and 2010 (113 changes per team per game) as coaches sought to give frequent rests to their running players.[17]

Positions on the Australian rules football field
B: Back Pocket Full back Back Pocket
HB: Half-Back Flank Centre Half-Back Half-Back Flank
C: Wing Centre Wing
HF: Half-Forward Flank Centre Half-Forward Half-Forward Flank
F: Forward Pocket Full Forward Forward Pocket
Foll: Ruckman Ruck rover Rover
Int: Interchange Interchange Interchange
Coach: coach


1.^ In the AFL's own account of the incident, as published on its website as part of the 150th-anniversary celebrations, the leap over the fence was credited not to Norm Dare, but to Gerry Noonan – who, like Dare, was a former Fitzroy player in the VFL who transferred to West Torrens in 1975. Additionally, the AFL's account of the incident had one other significant factual difference to the account in The Advertiser: the AFL's account indicated that the match was Fred Bills' 300th match, but the account in The Advertiser makes it unequivocally clear that it was Bills' 313th and final match.


  1. ^ Robinson, Mark; Williams, Rebecca (20 March 2013). "The AFL signs off on new concussion substitute rule". Herald Sun. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 
  2. ^ "SANFL teams: Round 20". The Messenger. 19 August 2011. Retrieved 7 Jan 2011. 
  3. ^ "Roosters make multitude of changes". VFL Footy. 22 Aug 2009. Retrieved 10 Sep 2011. 
  4. ^ "Laws of Australian Football 2012". p. 20. Law 7.2 (e): a Player who does not leave the Playing Surface as specified under Law 7.2 (d) is unable to re-enter the Playing Surface for the remainder of the Match 
  5. ^ a b "Laws of Australian Football". Australian Football League. 2011. pp. 17–18. Retrieved 10 Sep 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Wheeler, Melanie (22 July 2013). "Player count strips Frankston of score against Roosters in VFL". The Courier (Ballarat, VIC). Retrieved 22 July 2013. 
  7. ^ "Round 9 JC & the Juniors". Northern Football League. 2 Jun 2010. Retrieved 10 Sep 2011. 
  8. ^ a b Kingston, Geoff (11 August 1975), "Fred fades out in confusion", The Advertiser (Adelaide): 16 
  9. ^ "Moment #82: Out for the count". Carlton Football Club. 13 Mar 2008. Retrieved 10 Sep 2011. 
  10. ^ "1999 Review". 1999. Retrieved 10 Sep 2011. 
  11. ^ Observer (6 Jul 1896). "Football – Notes on Saturday's games". The Argus (Melbourne, VIC). p. 6. 
  12. ^ Old Boy (22 Jul 1921). "Football – Notes and comments". The Argus (Melbourne, VIC). p. 4. 
  13. ^ Old Boy (18 Jul 1921). "The Association – Footscray leads". The Argus (Melbourne, VIC). p. 3. 
  14. ^ Marc Fiddian (28 March 1977). "VFA details". The Age (Melbourne, VIC). p. 26. 
  15. ^ Ralph, Jon (1 May 2008). "AFL to change bench laws". Herald Sun. Retrieved 10 Sep 2011. 
  16. ^ "New Interchange Procedures 2008". Australian Football League. 2008. Retrieved 10 Sep 2011. 
  17. ^ Denham, Greg (30 Mar 2010). "Rotations sending football into a spin". The Australian. Retrieved 10 Sep 2011.