From lifting to codes, here is all you need to know about this set-piece

What is a lineout in rugby union?

Some players love lineouts, others feign indifference to them, but they are a crucial part of rugby union.

Speak to Steve Borthwick, Ben Kay or George Kruis and you will realise they are not dubbed ‘professors of the lineout’ for nothing and these people really love this bit of the game.

A lineout is called, to restart the game, when the ball goes into touch with the team not carrying or kicking the ball over the line given the throw-in. Unless of course, it is from a penalty or a 50:22 kick when the attacking team gets the ball. Then the fun starts.

The two sets of forwards, apart from the hookers, line up from the 5m line to the 15m line spaced about a metre apart. In the old days wingers used to throw in at the lineout, but hookers do the job now.

A lineout has to have at least four players in it, two from each side, but the attacking team decides how many. Of course, you can ignore them all together and just throw the ball over the top to Manu Tuilagi in midfield but mostly once the hooker is preparing the throw the ball in it is dance time in the lineout as jumpers and lifters jostle for position.

The ball must be delivered as soon as the lineout is formed and hookers are also supposed to throw the ball in straight, between the two sets of jumpers. Like a lot of things in rugby a crooked throw, like put-ins to scrums, can go unnoticed.

Once the ball is taken it can be flipped straight to the scrum-half – everyone else must be ten metres back – or a maul can be formed and driven up the pitch or over the line.

Once the ball has been caught the ten-metre restriction is lifted and defence and attack can move closer to the action, behind the back foot of the maul.

Teams can take a quick lineout and it does not have to be straight, just between the mark where the ball went into touch and their own goal-line, but it has to go five metres and has to be taken by a player, like the normal lineout, with both feet out of play. The ball must not have been touched by anyone else, barring a player who took it into touch.


Teams have codes so they can communicate which jumper they are going to throw the ball to. It is usually second, fourth or sixth man in the lineout and these are guarded jealously. Crack the opposition’s calls and you are in business.

In 2001 Ireland discovered England were using similar calls to the ones used by the British & Irish Lions earlier that year and hooker Keith Wood inspired them to a 20-14 win in the game delayed by foot and mouth disease.

In 2003 Kay even learnt a bit of Afrikaans to help him crack the South African calls for the pool match in that year’s Rugby World Cup and England ran out 25-6 winners in Perth.

But mostly teams should be winning their own ball.

Players have been allowed to lift jumpers in the lineout since 1995, although Bill Beaumont, a lock, once called prop Fran Cotton ‘Forklift Fran’, even though lifting was illegal in the days they played. Can’t think why.

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