After a disappointing performance against the undercooked Wallabies last week, the England coaching team were looking for improvements in all aspects of play and they certainly got that with the lineout win percentage, which jumped from 67% to 84% in a week.
Establishing a solid foundation from attacking lineouts is of paramount importance to any rugby team. While elite level teams will always aim for 100% success rate, England will be satisfied with their improvement in this area from the game against Australia.
By analysing the two games the change in form can be broken down into key elements, which all coaches can take on board.
Firstly, here’s a reminder of last week’s lineout performance against the Wallabies…
Practice Makes Perfect
The new starting front row of Marler, Hartley and Wilson would have been put through their paces along with the other forwards to build an understanding in the lineout and this was clearly evident against the Pumas.
A good lineout practice session instils confidence in the hooker and come game day, this has a significant positive effect. Conversely, lineout sessions that don’t go according to plan during the week leading up to a game can dent a hooker’s confidence. All it takes is a shaky start to the match and a hooker’s confidence can be shot.
Both Youngs and Hartley have the distinct advantage of working closely with RFU’s Simon Hardy. Hardy is a throwing guru who I also had the good fortune of working with. He will have gone through both hookers’ performances with them and analysed certain areas that needed work over the past week.
Selecting on Form
The most obvious difference in the England lineout was the switch at hooker. Dylan Hartley got the start over Tom Youngs against Argentina and the effect was very noticeable.
Hartley deservedly started against Argentina. Following his introduction against Australia, England won 100% of their lineouts. Hartley’s presence in that game had a big impact as his first throw was to the tail, 15 phases later and Owen Farrell waltzed over the Australian try line, albeit with some extra help from Hartley.
Hartley’s success rate against Argentina was 93%. His accurate and confident lineout throwing enabled England to build a sound foundation from which to attack. England took the Argentinians on up front by deciding to kick to the corners from early penalties and go for the try. This tactic worked well and Joe Launchbury muscled his way over for the first England try following a lineout throw to Lawes.
Tom Youngs’ lineout success rate improved marginally from last week, going from 50 to 60%. Although it is currently lower then where he would like it, Youngs will take a lot of confidence from his final throw to Parling which led to a late try for Ben Morgan.
Having played hooker for the entirety of my professional career, I will always be quick to defend hookers when the lineout fails to function. The lineout throw is the most visible part of the entire lineout sequence, but there are so many components that make up a fully functioning lineout. Movement, the jump, the lift and the throw must all be in harmony with each other.
International squads have limited time together to develop this understanding and rhythm and much can be gained from going with tested club combinations. Hartley throws to Lawes week in and week out at Northampton Saints and the two players possess a deep understanding of each other’s timing, which was evident in the Argentina game.
It is also worth noting that Lawes (6’ 7”) was lifted by both Tom Wood (6’ 5”) and Joe Launchbury (6’ 6”). It is difficult to compete with this height in the lineout.
While neither club nor height would be a primary reason for selection, these little things can contribute to gaining an advantage and be used strategically during the game or when making substitutions.
Making the right call
England displayed a vast repertoire of lineouts against Argentina. Every rugby team has a large number of lineout plays and they preselect certain lineouts for each game, depending on the opposition, where they are on the pitch and what they want to do from the lineout, usually either maul or pass it out to the backs.
Against Argentina, England used movement, timed throws, dummies and no lift lineouts to secure possession. Having the ability to vary the means of winning possession keeps the opponents guessing. A moment of uncertainty and indecision by a defending lineout pack, is all a well functioning lineout needs. Of the 19 lineouts England had, they used 5 man variation four times and the remaining fifteen lineouts were all full man or seven man lineouts.
Throwing to Your Strengths
There are three main types of throws from a hooker. The fast, hard throw which is used at the front of the lineout as the jumper gets in front of his opposite man, or else in a shortened (5 man) lineout where there is movement and then a jump. Again, the intention of the jumper is to get in front of his opposite man so the throw needs to be quick. These lineouts are based on the jumper’s speed across the ground and the lifters’ explosive lifts.
The lob throw from the hooker is a delicate, early release throw that has to find its target over an opposing lineout player. These lineout throws can be tough but there is nothing more satisfying for a hooker than to watch his throw sail over the opposition’s outstretched arms and safely into the hands of his own team mate, at full stretch.
The third and most difficult throw to perform (which England used a lot) is the timed throw. There is always a “trigger” which starts the lineout. If you watch closely, you will see either a lifter or a jumper move, and then the ball is thrown.
A timed throw is different. There is absolutely no movement in the lineout to initiate the move and act as the “trigger” for the hooker. Instead, the “trigger” is the hooker’s throw. These lineouts can only be performed by a pack who know each other’s movements well and who have rehearsed the lineouts a lot.
Timed lineout throws are almost impossible to defend against as the opposition are usually focused on the movement of the men in the attacking lineout. Timed throws are difficult to execute but are very effective. The understanding between Lawes and Hartley means that these could be used to maximum effect.
What a Difference a Week Makes
Set piece possession is invaluable to any team. Without the ability to win your own scrums and lineouts, your whole team suffers and this was evident at Twickenham against the Aussies. England never really looked like a threatening team. They looked like a very abrasive and aggressive team, particularly at ruck time, but securing possession at set piece is critical.
By contrast, against Argentina, England’s pack built a solid foundation through their lineouts, by scoring a try directly from a lineout maul and by providing their backs with an attacking platform.
The record books will show another victory for England and undoubtedly it will build confidence in the squad. You cannot stand still in rugby, your opponents are always striving to improve and so must you. The coaching staff will be looking for further improvements if the lineout is to provide a potent weapon against New Zealand and England are to repeat their win against the All Blacks from 2012.
Are you seeing an improvement in England’s set-piece play? Will these improvements be enough when New Zealand come to town? Comments below…