We all know how important it is to have a solid set piece on match days and there is no debating that. It is the biggest bugbear for a coach if you cannot win solid ball for your team at Lineout time - especially a backs coach who doesn’t’ understand the set piece, but yet gets understandably frustrated when the flying backs can’t get any good ball.
In this article, we're not going to look at one key person in the lineout and the impact they have.
There is one common factor in the lineout that every team must possess, and that is a competent lineout caller.
It is, of course a pack effort and everyone needs to be on their game in order to gain a high success rate, but lets look at the Lineout Callers in some of the best lineout teams in the world.
For South Africa you have Victor Matfield, Ireland have Paul O’Connell, Alun Wyn Jones for Wales, and for Scotland it’s young Johnny Gray.
Now, there is one thing these guys have in common - they have all been captain of club or country, making them leaders in their own right. If you look across many teams, you will find that a lot of Second Row’s are captains and that is no coincidence.
When you look at the skills needed to call the lineout for your team, leadership is an absolute imperative and the first thing I would look for as a coach looking to pick my lineout caller.
Why is leadership so important?
A lineout leaders duties consist of communicating with the half backs, while making decisions under pressure and demanding the rest of the pack to pretty much do as you say, every time the ball goes out of play.
You must also be able to take it on the chin when your pack has a bad day at the office, and that is just part of it.
Of course sometimes it can become frustrating, as there could be many factors that have determined the bad day - poor throwing from your hooker, other people messing up the calls, or the opposition just having very good defense and pinch everything.
But as a leader of the lineout, you have to own it and be able to take the slack from the coach post game, and then be able to address the issues with the guys or girls on the next evening session.
We touched on communication earlier as that is a skill that quite frankly every rugby player should possess, but none more so than a lineout leader. You must be able to work with the guys in the pack and articulate calls to the hooker, whilst liaising with the half backs on whether they want it ‘off the top’ or driven.
One thing that I haven’t mentioned but may seem quite obvious is that a lineout caller should always, if possible, be the main jumper in the lineout who will position him/herself as the middle jumper. There are a few reasons for why this is so important.
Firstly, by being in the middle jumping position, you are in the best position to make a call as you can easily see the entire lineout and what the opposition is doing.
If you’re at the front and trying to call, you have to turn round to see what’s going. Similarly, if you are calling as a backrow, positioned in behind the middle second row, you will struggle to see the entirety of the lineout.
Secondly, the middle jumper is normally the best jumper and therefore in the pressure of must win lineouts, you are in the best position to call to yourself. That takes confidence in your ability to be able to win the ball.
Look at the guys I mentioned above - especially Victor Matfield and Paul O'Connell – how many times have you seen them take the pressure ball on themselves, called by themselves?
The last key point I would make is that you have to have the confidence and ability to make decisions under pressure. It’s up to you to make the final call and whatever you say go’s.
I am a believer that a lineout can be made over complicated and when I coach my guys, I always tell them that if they can get the basics right their lineout will be unbeatable.
The skills and tips I have mentioned above will be what a lot of you guys will already be doing, but I just want to reaffirm the importance of how the good teams build their lineouts through a good Lineout Leader.