The Rugby Coaching Manual
Once upon a time, long before lifting was legal, this phase of the game was reasonably straightforward, though not particularly productive. I still remember the days when there was a good deal of huffing and puffing, a great deal of skulduggery and very little ball coming back from the lineout. It used to resemble a battlefield and the Laws on lifting have certainly made it a more reliable means of possession than it ever was pre-lifting. Unfortunately, too many teams do not consider what they are doing and stick too rigidly to the status quo in the game.
For instance, where in the law book does it say that the hooker has to throw in and forwards have to jump? Yet we nearly always see the hooker throwing in and often badly. Surely the task should go to the player best suited to the skill demands, so if you have a player in any position who can become a reliable thrower-in, why not give him the job? He may be your fly half, but it is surely better to win the lineout without the 10 in place than it is to have him standing in the normal (correct) spot and all he has to do is tackle because you have (again) lost the lineout.
The same goes with jumping. It is all very well for professionals to lift an eighteen-stone behemoth – they are pumping iron during most of their waking hours. But the amateur ranks will soon run out of puff if they have to keep raising their eighteen stone lump from, if not the dead, something close to inertia. So try some new ploys. The lightest player in most teams is the scrum half and many 7s teams use him as the lineout ball winner; why not give it a go? Your lifters will be able to get him higher with less effort than it takes to get a second rower lower, so at least consider using any player so that you win the ball - and it does not have to be a forward just because that is what most other teams have always done.
When you know who your thrower-in is, look carefully at the way he throws and get him to practise basketball free shots to work the knees in the action. Too many throwers are leaden in all parts of the body apart from the arms and hands, yet the skill does require a soft push from the knees and up to get any sympathy on the throw.
Your thrower may be one of the imprecise band of brothers who uses only one hand in the throw. This rarely works and the ball all too frequently slips out sideways and you give the opponents an opportunity to have another lineout with their throw or their scrum for not straight. Try to get your thrower to adopt a two-handed action where he takes the ball behind the neck and guides it forwards with the non-throwing hand. When this is accompanied by a soft push from the knees, you will get far greater success and the thrower can legally hold back the throw with this action as he does not have to release as soon as the body and knees start to work. With the one-handed method, he almost has to release as soon as the arm moves. If, however, your thrower is reasonably accurate and cannot change from a one-handed throw, accept things as they are as you will probably try to mend something that is not yet broken. You will not have time to rebuild an action if you are in the middle of a league season and have a maximum of two nights of training. Be aware, though, that you will probably be developing younger players for the future, so try to influence their method and aim to copy the action of the best Premiership and international players; most use two hands, take the ball behind the neck and push sympathetically from the knees. They also happen to have worked extensively on their core stability in the abdominals, but you may not have sufficient time available to contemplate this.
If you have a serious lineout problem even after considering who throws and who jumps, you have to consider early calls and running to a throw-in that occurs as soon as the lineout is formed. This requires practice, but it can be very effective as most teams have developed conditioned reflexes at lineouts and they want to hold a mass meeting and discussion on what you might do. Beat them with speed. And there is absolutely nothing to stop you having a two-man lineout, which, when formed quickly on a call as the ball goes into touch, can easily disorientate opponents who are conditioned to assume that there has to be a lift. There is no such requirement in Law, so use that to your advantage.
You will, unfortunately, have to have the referee’s support and it will be well worth a few minutes of his pre-match time when you check it out. Hopefully, he will go along with you and allow what is a perfectly legitimate ploy to speed the game up and get the ball back in play, but referees are human and can say one thing before the game and put a slightly different interpretation on what they previously said during actual play. If the quick lineout was plan B, you now need C.
Plan C is not to have lineouts at all whenever possible after the opposition kick to touch. Your back three players have to work really hard and get the ball back in play before the opposition arrive, but you have to be absolutely certain that you have the personnel to carry this out competently and at the right opportunity. There is little point in making a mess of it and giving the opponents possession without having to do anything to earn it, so bin the idea if your players do not have the pace and nous to succeed. They also need to know that they can take a quick throw as long as they use the match ball and it has not been touched by any other person after it went off the field of play.
Once again, this requires practice as the rest of the team need to know what is likely to happen next and they need to know where they are likely to be running, but it is well worth consideration if you know your set piece lineout will probably not win the ball. In training you need to look at various possible scenarios so that the back three players understand when not to go ahead. It is far better to lose a lineout than to attempt a quick throw when all the odds are stacked against it, such as when the kicking side has chased really well and they leave you with no space; make sure your flyers realise that they do not have to carry on with the ploy simply because you practised it on Thursday night. This can be a perfect practical illustration of ‘back to 1.’
If your team is having lineout problems you will probably not win the opposition’s throw-in, so your kicking policy has to take that into consideration and you should be trying to kick to space rather than to touch. However, you will never get a game where you can do precisely what you want, so your weak lineout will have to be worked on as soon as possible. If you are still struggling after carrying out various remedial practices, probably the best strategy on their throw-in is to jack a man up at two and put the rest of the forwards on a watching brief to spot if and when the opponents ‘mess-up’ their throw and/or catch. You will be surprised how much possession is available if only players are honed to look for it at and around the lineout – and that process starts at training nights.
The Rugby Coaching Manual is now available for easy order from Amazon. This book will greatly help any rugby coach whether they are an old pro or overseeing their first training sessions. For more tips or information on the book, please visit The Rugby Coaching Manual official site. And check out a preview of the other chapters from the book on Rugby Rugby.
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