In this article, Sam Larner breaks down the Falcons' fancy lineout work
The Intercept: Newcastle Try Against Exeter
In this series, Rugby World talks to those involved in big moments in matches to find out the detail involved – the hows and the whys.
There are few things in rugby more satisfying than a well-executed lineout move. It is rugby’s Imitation Game moment. Teams spend the week analysing the opposition and understanding their trends. Then they bluff and double bluff them as they create lineout moves and tricks that will hopefully break down the defences.
In this edition of The Intercept we speak with Newcastle Falcons lineout coach Scott MacLeod about this Ben Stevenson try in their Gallagher Premiership victory over Exeter Chiefs…
Rugby is a very complex game with many moving parts. The lineout is therefore much easier to analyse because it is largely static. Teams will review the tendencies of the opposition but will also look at themselves and make sure they are not becoming predictable.
MacLeod explains how this self-analysis helped them against the Chiefs: “Exeter was the first game where we started driving with a five-man lineout close to the line. We threw it in just for that game to paint a different picture. Teams go so in-depth with their analysis now that they are constantly looking for triggers and trends. Using the five-man against them will have caught them unaware.
“During the week we will analyse the opposition and then pull together moves that we think will work against that opposition. During the week we will trim those down so we are left with maybe only three moves that we are confident will be successful. The video we have on the opposition is helpful because we can show the lads why the moves will be successful.
“I work with our head coach, Dave Walder, who is in charge of attack, to work on lineouts that week. Dave will come to me and say that he has an idea for a strike move and he wants to know what the best lineout is to go with that move.”
Rugby is a game of chess and Stevenson’s score came as a direct result of Newcastle’s first try. That was scored from another five-man lineout close to the Exeter line. That time Newcastle had mauled the ball, with George McGuigan the scorer. McGuigan would have a significant role in the Stevenson try too, with his dummy run opening up the opportunity on the blind side. “They knew that we had scored a maul against them and so they needed to hit our lineout hard,” says MacLeod. “That created the opportunity for the second try.”
Teams can plot, plan and prepare as much as they want, ultimately, the success of a move comes down to performing under pressure. The Stevenson try came down to three key components: winning the lineout, creating the two-on-one, finishing the two-on-one.
For MacLeod, the key for the first component was to win the ball at the back: “By throwing to the back we created a bigger blind side. We could have probably thrown to the middle and still been successful but throwing to the back increases our chances. We knew that Exeter defended with their scrum-half in the five-metre channel, most teams will put their hooker there. In this particular situation they also had Jack Nowell in the bin who would usually defend on that side. By throwing to the back we increased our margin for error.”
A plus one lineout is one where the player stood to receive the ball, the scrum-half in typical lineouts, is actually a forward. When teams first started doing this it would be a signal that they were going to maul. Now teams will throw in all kinds of variations including fake mauls or plays where the forward passes away like a scrum-half would. In this situation the plus one player was back-row Philip Van der Walt. His deception was key to this.
“We did a lot of work on Philip’s dummy during the week. Early on we didn’t feel like we were really selling the dummy. It was a lot to do with McGuigan coming round to the openside and really wanting that ball. Dummies are far more successful if the player runs it exactly like they would if they were going to get the ball. We wanted Alec Hepburn (the blindside defending prop) to join the maul. In the end he just takes one step towards it but that is enough to create the space. It is such small margins. Sometimes it can be fortuitous.”
One of the great benefits of scoring a try like this is it puts doubts into the mind of future sides. “We have lots of options off this lineout and the reality is that if you have many options then one of them will be on more than the others. Then it’s just a case of having the decision-makers choose the correct one.
“If we see defenders holding the blind and then other defenders watching for McGuigan coming around then surely the decision is to go through the middle because you’re numbers up at the maul. Sometimes, though, you think that a move is definitely on and if we’d have executed how we practised then it would have worked. That can be a frustrating thing as a coach.”
Coaches at local clubs might not have the ability to plan ahead and analyse their opposition. However, they can still devise plays like this one. Ultimately, lineout moves are only successful if the lineout is successful so work on that first.
Once you are confident with that, you can then focus on the window dressing. The dummies, plus ones and fakes are important, and they will make your plays more successful, but they don’t need to be overly complicated. Make them repeatable even when you’re under pressure and you will find more success with your lineouts.
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