...there’s not a star in heaven that we can’t reach.
With apologies to devotees of High School Musical who have arrived at this post via Google, I'm afraid that this post deals only with the trials and tribulations of lineout lifting rather than those of Troy and Gabriella (and for those of you who haven't a clue what I'm on about, don't worry - it comes with the territory when you have kids aged 7 and 5).
Anyway, following the purgatory of the Bleep Test on Tuesday night at club training (see below for the gory details) the players split up into forwards and backs as is normal at training sessions up and down the land.
Incidentally, I can't say I've ever understood what backs actually do in training. Perhaps I ought to join in to find out. I remember in my university days in particular us forwards slugging it out on the scrum machine or working on lineout variations for what seemed like hours on end and yet, whenever we looked over at the backs, there they were - sat in a circle, apparently in earnest discussion. Who knows what they were actually talking about - in retrospect they were probably just taking the piss out of how hard the forwards were working and how stupid we looked.
I digress. The forwards' session on Tuesday was dedicated to the lineout and began with an incredibly confused discussion (yes, we forwards can do it too) about how this particular phase would be affected by the ELVs. The conclusions were, how can I put this...inconclusive. Clearly, if the grassroots game follows the example set in the Super 14 and Tri Nations, there are going to be fewer lineouts than previously, with kicking out from the 22 discouraged and with quick throws being made easier. The general feeling, I think, was that lineouts would therefore end up less structured, with all forwards needing to know how to lift and, to a lesser extent, how to be lifted.
We therefore worked in pairs lifting tackle bags before working on some throws into the lineout. What is clear is that catching and driving is unlikely to be a successful tactic this season given that the opposition can (and will, no doubt) pull down the maul. So what did we do at the first lineout? We caught and drove, of course! Old habits die hard.
It was suggested that I might have a go at jumping which I was happy to do given that, way back when, I used to jump regularly at the front for Peterborough Colts and at 4 for Cambridgeshire Schools Under 16s (before my move to a more appropriately lurking position at the tail of the lineout). However, aside from an abortive attempt to do so in a Vets match last season, I'd never actually ever been lifted in a lineout before (bearing in mind that, before last season, I hadn't played since the 93/94 season) and I must say that the experience was...well...educational!
At first I didn't really get the fact that I had to physically jump before the "lift" took place, or that my jump was then the cue for the ball to be thrown - what I used to do back in the dark ages was to time my jump to coincide with the hooker's throwing action rather than vice versa - the opposite appearing to be the case these days. The other difficulty was that it took several attempts to get used to keeping my legs (a) together - to facilitate a decent grip and (b) still - to prevent me kicking the lifting props in the head/stomach/nuts. Now I'm beginning to understand why they're all such miserable bastards.
One thing that did strike me, however, is how programmed we've become at this particular set piece. Some lift and some jump but very few THINK. Being allowed to lift at the lineout has left this phase of the game full of technical expertise but bereft of ideas and innovation. Back when I played at Barnes, for instance, I remember it was often just a nod in the direction of the hooker which would signal a ball lobbed over the top of the lineout - these days it seems it would take a planned call and several training sessions to make it happen and, given that our Vets lineout was a shambles last season, perhaps there are lessons to be learned here.
Nevertheless, after a few hair-raising rehearsals there followed a series of lifting/jumping routines to front, middle and back which, from my point of view, were a fairly gruelling set of exercises (hamstrings are still suffering, not to mention a certain amount of chaffing in the shorts department), let alone how physical it must have been for the poor lifters.
We finished with a semi-opposed session after we were re-united with the backs who, by the number of times they dropped the ball, showed that they'd obviously been doing bugger all of any use while we'd been toiling away.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.