Lineouts in Rugby Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide for New Fans

Rugby is a sport rich in complexity and strategy, and the lineout is one of its most intriguing facets. For newcomers to the game, understanding lineouts can seem like deciphering a code, but it’s an essential element of rugby that can be both thrilling and strategic. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through everything a new rugby fan needs to know about lineouts – what they are, how they work, the objectives, techniques, and the rules governing lineouts.

What is a Lineout?

A lineout is a set piece in rugby where two teams compete for possession of the ball. It occurs when the ball goes out of bounds, either along the sideline or the dead ball line, and is then thrown back into play. The lineout is one of the primary ways to restart the game and is crucial for both attacking and defensive teams.

How Lineouts Are Formed

A lineout is formed after the ball goes into touch, meaning it crosses the sideline or dead ball line. Here’s how a lineout is set up and executed:

  1. Throw-In: The team awarded the throw-in (the attacking team) designates a player called the “hooker” to throw the ball back into play. The hooker is usually one of the front-row forwards.
  2. Line of Touch: The lineout occurs along an imaginary line parallel to the touchline. Players from both teams form two parallel lines perpendicular to the touchline, with a gap between them.
  3. Jumpers: The jumping players, often called “jumpers” or “lifters,” are typically the taller and more agile players on the team. They stand a few meters away from the touchline, ready to jump for the ball.
  4. Lifting: The jumpers are lifted by their teammates, who grip their thighs and hoist them into the air to compete for the ball. This lifting action is vital for reaching the ball at the highest point.
  5. Throw and Contest: The hooker throws the ball down the gap between the two lines of players. Both teams attempt to win the ball, either by securing it cleanly or by stealing it from the opposition.

The Objectives of a Lineout

Lineouts serve several strategic purposes in rugby:

  1. Regaining Possession: In attack, the team throwing in at the lineout aims to regain possession of the ball, offering a platform for their backline to attack or setting up a maul or driving play.
  2. Gaining Territory: An accurate lineout can be used to gain valuable territory, putting the team in a better position to score or relieve pressure when defending.
  3. Set Plays: Lineouts are often used to execute set plays, where the team has practiced a specific move or strategy to gain an advantage, create space, or score points.

Lineout Techniques

A successful lineout requires precision and teamwork. Here are the key techniques involved:

  1. Throw-In: The hooker must deliver an accurate throw to the intended target. This means throwing the ball straight down the middle of the gap between the two lines of players. An accurate throw is crucial for the jumpers to compete for the ball effectively.
  2. Jumping: The jumpers must time their jumps correctly to reach the ball at the highest point. They use their agility, height, and timing to compete with the opposition and secure the ball.
  3. Lifting: The lifting players must coordinate their actions to ensure a stable lift, providing the jumpers with a solid platform to reach for the ball. Communication is key to a successful lift.
  4. Communication: Effective communication is vital among the players involved in the lineout. The jumper signals the intended target, and the lifters must adjust their actions to meet the jumper’s requirements.
  5. Variation: Teams often use variations in their lineout plays to keep the opposition guessing. This might involve using different combinations of jumpers or executing pre-planned moves to outmaneuver the defense.

Rules Governing Lineouts

Understanding the rules and regulations governing lineouts is essential. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  1. Throw Must Be Straight: The ball must be thrown straight down the middle of the gap between the two lines of players. A throw that veers off to one side or the other is considered illegal.
  2. Jumpers Must Start on the Ground: The jumpers must start on the ground and are lifted by their teammates. They cannot jump without being lifted.
  3. No Early Lifting: Lifting players must not lift the jumper until the ball is thrown. Lifting too early is a violation.
  4. No Obstruction: Players must not obstruct or impede their opponents during the lineout. It should be a fair contest for the ball.
  5. Jumpers Must Land Safely: After competing for the ball, the jumpers must land safely on the ground. Dangerous landings are penalized.
  6. Not Straight or Crooked Throw: If the throw is not straight or is deemed crooked by the referee, the opposing team can choose to either have a scrum or a lineout at the same location where the throw occurred.
  7. Formation and Numbers: Both teams must adhere to the formation and number of players designated by the referee for the lineout. Failure to do so results in penalties.

Variations in Lineouts

There are variations in lineouts, depending on the level of play and the specific rules governing a given competition:

  1. Quick Throw: In some variations of the game, a quick throw can be taken if the ball goes into touch. This allows the team awarded the throw-in to take the throw without forming a lineout, catching the opposition off guard.
  2. Contested vs. Uncontested: At lower levels of play, such as youth and amateur rugby, contested lineouts may not be allowed due to safety concerns. In uncontested lineouts, the team awarded the throw-in retains possession.
  3. Alternative Formations: While the traditional lineout formation is the most common, some teams employ alternative formations or strategies, such as a shortened lineout or moving players to different positions before the throw.


Lineouts are a captivating and strategic element of rugby that can change the course of a match. Whether it’s a clever set play leading to a try or a critical defensive steal, the lineout is a dynamic spectacle that showcases teamwork, technique, and precision. As you continue to explore the world of rugby, understanding the intricacies of lineouts, when to use them, the techniques involved, and the rules governing them will enhance your appreciation of this multifaceted sport. So, keep an eye on the touchlines and be ready to cheer for your team’s well-executed lineout strategies.

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