Learn from the Pros is a series of articles on LineoutCoach which highlight advice on best practice from professional players on subjects from the benefits of altitude training to set piece specialisms like lineout throwing.
The videos featured cover the core skills, the physical, technical and mental aspects of the game, and give an insight into playing at elite level. This video comes from the England Rugby ‘First Contact’ series which looks at how key players in the squad approach their first tackle, high ball, carry, penalty kick or lineout throw.
Confidence is a huge factor in consistent and accurate lineout throwing. You can work on developing your core strength and technique in training but it’s difficult to replicate the pressure on the hooker to perform when you need points on the board, the clock is ticking, and the crowd is watching.
Here England and Northampton Saints Hooker Dylan Hartley talks about the importance of confidence when throwing to a lineout. Talking through some recent examples from international games against Australia and Argentina, Hartley highlights the impact a successful throw can have on a hooker, the opposition, and even the referee.
“For me the first lineout of the game is usually a confidence builder. If you hit that one you go into a pretty positive mindset into your next lineout and the day can be a pretty easy day from there. Whereas if you lose your first lineout, your second lineout, you start doubting yourself, you start doubting the caller. Little things creep into your mind so it’s always important to nail your first couple of lineouts.
You look at the scoreline. I’ve obviously been watching the game like the crowd, coming off the bench, 55 minutes on the clock, 13 all, so I’m very conscious of that. I want to go on and if anything add to the team or go unnoticed almost. So the first lineout is very important for me. I don’t want it to be an over throw or under throw I don’t want to lose the ball we just want to win the ball and if you look at the position on the field it’s obviously a strike play for us a chance to get into the game with an attacking move. I don’t know if you talk to a lot of hookers a lot of them want their first lineout to the front to make sure they get it but with the good lineout callers we have here in Courtney (Lawes) and Geoff (Parling) I’ll throw the ball anywhere, I’ll back their call. As you can see here in this first one I hit the tail and the ball is good. We launch a pretty good attack move off it and get big Billy Vunipola over the gainline and think we go on to score a try.
So obviously at the start of the game and we are back at our 22 so a defensive lineout and we’ve hit the front of the lineout. Not because it’s the easy option but because it’s the option that is on and it’s a clear throw.
Before the game I talk to the lineout caller and he usually says to me these are the first three lineouts we are looking to do if this is on we’ll take this. So it’s not a surprise where I’m going to throw the ball I’ve usually got a good idea where it’s going to go.”
Interviewer: So your first contribution is vitally important in a game you want to get that right for yourself but also to make a statement to the opposition?
“Yes, also to the referee as well. Say if you threw the first one 2m not straight the ref has got it in your head you are having a shaky day so he’ll start looking for things like that. Whereas if you first lineout is clean it shows the ref that you are on target, shows your own players that you are competent, and it shows the opposition that if you do a nice clean throw that they aren’t going to get any ball and its going to be a tough day for them as well.”
It’s probably too simplistic to say ‘win the lineout, win the game’ but a solid set piece gives a good platform to build from. The throw is the first part of the lineout sequence but every stage of the process has to work if your team is to retain the ball and go on the attack.
While there are obvious benefits to getting it right but what if your first throw doesn’t go as planned? We’d all like to throw well every time, even the best No 2s have bad throws. You can’t control the impact this might have on the opposition or the referee but you can control how it affects your game. When coaching I always tell hookers to forget about their last throw, good or bad, and focus on the next lineout. Don’t carry a mistake forward in a game or you’ll be likely to repeat it.
Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby Collegiate All-Americans Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland A & 7s, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now Head Coach of Dartmouth Rugby. He writes for RugbyToday.com and other publications when not coaching and blogging on lineoutcoach.com