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VFL Tigers gallant in loss to Zebras

VFL Round 4: Griffiths Ben Griffiths kicked 2 goals in the Round 4 match against Sandringham.
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Ben Griffiths of the Tigers kicks the ball during the 2016 AFL Round 01 match between the Richmond Tigers and the Carlton Blues at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne on March 24, 2016. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media)
Ben Griffiths pressed his claim for a senior recall in Saturday's VFL loss

Richmond’s VFL side fought valiantly, but in the end was outclassed by a more seasoned Sandringham outfit by 57 points under lights at Punt Road Oval.

The Tigers pressured and harassed the Zebras for the majority of their twilight encounter but in the end, Sandringham’s class came to the fore as the hosts tired, 16.15.111 to 7.12.54.

As hoards of Richmond fans congregated at Punt Road Oval as a curtain raiser to the AFL clash against Port Adelaide, the VFL Tigers sensed the occasion and started the game accordingly.

The Tigers hunted, harassed and suffocated the Zebras in the opening minutes and received just reward as Nathan Broad slotted a classy left-foot snap after some bullocking work by the tenacious Adam Marcon.

Sandringham responded almost instantly, but key Tiger tall Ben Griffiths capped off his desperate sliding chest mark, with a towering set-shot from outside 50, and swung the momentum back in Richmond’s favour.

Tiger on-baller Marcon, who was bereft of assistance against Frankston, gained a much needed chop-out this week from midfield bull Jacob Townsend and the pair dominated the contested ball early on.

Richmond’s work in the clinches could not be faulted, as it squeezed the Zebras and played the game in its half for much of the opening term before Sandringham started to click into gear.

The Zebras pounced on any Richmond turnover and hurt the Tigers on the rebound to end the opening turn with four consecutive goals and gained a 21-point lead.

At the quarter-time break, Tigers’s senior coach Craig McRae applauded his side’s pressure and work in-close but urged his chargers to “ brave” with the ball between the arcs and “...squeeze up” on Sandringham.

Sandringham began the second term full of running and had the Tigers on the back foot and forced them to continuously defend from their back half.

It was a case of all hands on deck, as reliable key-backs Ryan Gale and Todd Elton absorbed the aerial pressure, and the Tigers defended staunchly.

Richmond key-forwards Liam McBean and Griffiths were forced to lend a hand down back, with McBean spoiling with defiance, which was a tremendous sign of the development in his aerial contests.

After absorbing the Zebras’ pressure, the Tigers hit the scoreboard late in the second term through ruckman Ivan Soldo and the hulking Griffiths.

Griffiths had a hand in the first, as his slick hands from congestion found Soldo on the paint of 50 and the ruckman belied his height with a classy right-foot checkside which surprised the crowd, and his teammates.

As Griffiths led and marked strongly, the crowd began to lift — it then roared as the key-forward sunk his long range set-shot as the Tigers pressed hard approaching halftime, and trailed by 22 points.

Ill-discipline by the Tigers gifted Sandringham two crucial goals via 50-metre penalties in the opening stages of the third term and put Richmond behind the eight-ball.

The Zebras started beating the Tigers around the ball, as the heat turned up in the contest and Richmond was left defending multiple forward 50 entries once again.

In an improvement from last week, Richmond fought and scrapped when it was challenged and clawed back the momentum, and got the game back on its terms.

Richmond’s pressure forward of centre allowed it to keep the ball in its half for a sustained period and it capitalised via an excellent forward-50 tackle and goal from Marcon.

Tigers’ developing key-forward McBean highlighted his elite finishing skills with an exquisite set-shot from the boundary and handed his side the momentum.

Griffiths floated down back and halted some late forays forward by the Zebras and held the deficit to 21 points heading into the final change.

In his three-quarter time address, McRae implored his side to once again “be bold”, to trust the forwards and promote “winning behaviours” and “winning actions”.

Unfortunately, after peppering the goals early, the Tigers couldn’t eat into the deficit as the Zebras streamed forward at will and plied on six-goals-to-nil in a dominant last quarter display.

Griffiths capped off an impressive evening with a genuine “hanger” in front of the Richmond faithful on the Jack Dyer Stand wing, which was a rare highlight in a tough final term for the hosts.

Zippy Tiger Jayden Short (26 disposals) looked right at home as a rebounding defender, while midfielder Tom Couch (25 disposals and ten clearances) and Taylor Hunt (24 disposals) were gallant in defeat.

Griffiths kicked a team-high two majors, as well as clunking five contested marks as Marcon, Broad, Conca, Soldo and McBean slotted singles.

Richmond faces Port Melbourne at North Port Oval at 2pm next Saturday 7 May, and will look to get back on the winners’ list.