Sunday, 16 May 2010

Whatever happened to: Lineouts

Confirming my status as a complete and utter sad old fart, here's another of a sporadic series of nostalgic ramblings about aspects of the game that appear to have gone AWOL since I started playing back in the mists if time.

This time it's the lineout.

The lineout? Really? Surely that hasn't disappeared from our game?

But it has. Or at least the lineout that I remember has. (And don't call me Shirley).

My first ever lineout is described in my first ever post on this blog. Now, admittedly, that somewhat haphazard experience may be something of an extreme example of the lineout genre of that era but the principle holds true that, in basic terms, the hooker chucked the ball into the lineout while players, usually 2nd rows, jumped in an attempt to catch the ball or, more usually, slap it back in the general direction of the terrified scrum half. Players involved in a lineout barged, leant on shoulders, pulled shirts, held arms and generally did everything in their power to disrupt the opposition whilst protecting their own jumper. In short, it was chaos.

Nowadays, of course, it's all very different. For the most part (and I admit there are exceptions) the lineout is a heavily choreographed means of re-starting games, with "jumpers" being hoisted into position so that the hooker can find his target with relative ease. There's something quite aesthetically pleasing about the modern day lineout, having a certain elegance in its execution and, more often than not, securing clean ball for the team throwing the ball in.

Which, if that's what you want from a lineout, then great. Old style lineouts, however, were genuine contests and, while much, much messier than their modern day equivalents, involved (in my most humble of opinions) a higher level of skill to perfect. The likes of Eales, Dooley and Norster, who somehow managed to secure ball amongst the mayhem going on around them, were true lineout giants. And hookers, as well as being truly nasty, had to have the unerring accuracy of Phil "The Power" Taylor.

There was also greater variety. Maybe not at the elite level, but certainly at club and college level there was certainly a myriad of calls as teams very much lived on their wits and were alert to the possibilities of quick throws or throws over the back or shortened lineouts. Nowadays, at the level I play at least, the ball rarely gets past a throw to the front jumper and a ball over the back is pretty much unheard of. So, whilst the modern lineout is a cleaner, easier-to-referee and more efficient way of re-starting the game I do sometimes pine for the organised chaos of the old days, where a nod or a wink to the hooker would be enough for him to chuck the ball in early or perhaps realise that you wanted a lob rather than a flat throw.

A word of warning though - even the modern version of the lineout is fast becoming an endangered species. There are far fewer lineouts than in yesteryear and, given the lack of contest these days, coupled with law changes that discourage kicking into touch, I do wonder how long it will be before the powers-that-be decide that they can dispense with this particular set piece altogether?

And then we'll all be asking whatever happened to the lineout.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you're right at the top levels of the game but, like you, I'm playing in the fourth XV on a Saturday afternoon and we compete at every lineout and, at the expense of being arrogant, regularly win or disrupt the opposition's ball. Perhaps other teams could learn from this or at least try it more often - or is it just a dream? Long live the lineout!