A rugby lineout is a method of restarting play when the ball goes into touch (out of bounds).
When the ball crosses the side-line (or touch line) a lineout is awarded to the team whom did not touch the ball last. An exception to this is when the ball is kicked out of play from a penalty, in which case the team awarded the penalty gets the throw into the lineout.
The lineout is normally taken from where the ball crosses the touch line, however, there are exceptions to this. If the ball is kicked out on the full (without bouncing in the field of play) by a player who is outside of their 22 then the lineout is awarded level with where the kick was made.
Wondering what all these lines mean? Check out Rugby Field 101.
Forming a lineout
A rugby lineout is formed with the two sets of forwards lining up a meter apart perpendicular to the touch line between the five meter and 15 meter line The ball is thrown (usually by the hooker) in a straight line between the two sets of teams whom then compete for possession of the ball. The team throwing the ball has the advantage in this situation as they know where the ball is likely to end up because of their predetermined strategic calls.
Players can be lifted by teammates in order to jump and catch higher balls (as seen in the picture above). This reduces the chance of turnover as non-jumping members of the lineout can try and catch the ball. Although this is very advantageous, both teams can have jumpers that can be lifted in an attempt to catch the ball and therefore safety is paramount. Any lifted player cannot be tackled while in the air and must be supported until they return to the ground.
After the catch
The player who catches the ball can either pass it to a receiver (normally the scrum half), who is waiting close to the lineout ready to spread the ball out to the backs, or can bring it down and set up a maul with the other forwards in an attempt to create forward drive.
Teams have the opportunity to take a quick lineout to restart play faster. For this to happen the ball cannot have been touched by any other person prior to the throw being made. A quick lineout can be taken from any point between where the ball left the field of play and their own goal line. A quick lineout can only occur before a lineout begins to form, therefore teams often try and prevent this being taken against them by rushing to the location of where the ball went out of play.
Players not involved within the lineout must be at least 10m back from the lineout until the lineout is over. An exception to this is the scrum half who can be available to pass to from the top of the lineout. Additionally, if the lineout is within 10m of a team’s try line then the team does not need to retreat any further than their try line.
The rules around the rugby lineout are defined by Law 18 of the Rugby Union Laws of the Game.