Scrum half communication at the lineouts

Scrum halves (9s) have as varied a role to play at the attacking lineout as the amount of lineout variations your team has. What are the scrum half’s roles at this set piece?

Most lineout calls are made by the lineout leader, perhaps the hooker or middle jumper. This decision might start with a call from the 10 to the lineout, or the lineout might decide what to do. In all cases, 9 operates as the point of communication.

If the ball is coming ‘off the top’, the 9 needs to say if it is from the front, middle or back. If there is going to be a catch and drive, then the backs need to know at what stage the ball is likely to come. A back peel, where the forwards are aiming to drive in the opposition midfield, will mean a further consideration on the backs move to play.

If the ball is going to be delivered straight to the backs, then the forwards will need to know what their role is going to be straight after the lineout:

  • Will it be kicked or run?
  • Where is the ball likely to go?
  • Is there a system of play after the first ruck?

So 9 has to signal to both sets of players on how and where the ball will be won and what is going to happen next.


When the ball is taken ‘off the top’, it is immediately delivered to 9. It might be from the top of the jump or once the jumper is brought down with the intention of tying in the back of the defending lineout momentarily.

Each 9 has a preferred style of passing, but they all gain an advantage if they can be moving on to the ball in the direction they want to pass it.

It is best for the 9 to stand at the very front of the line and move behind the flight of the ball as it crosses over into the lineout contest. Ideally the ball arrives in line with the back foot of the 9 so he does not have to adjust his hands and arms to wind up the pass.

He is also looking to the back of the lineout to see if the defending forwards are going to get into his passing channel. Since the pass from the lineout is likely to be the longest spin pass, he should aim slightly further in front of his normal target area.


When the ball is driven from the lineout, 9 acts as the ring master for the forwards. He moves them in and out of the drive to produce the ball he is looking for.

As the maul develops he directs the players left or right and then asks for the ball. It is a common mistake to think that the ball is given to 9 when the maul grinds to a halt, because it simply gives the opposition time to reorganise.

The 9 has to judge the moment so he receives the ball from a maul that is still moving forward.


Opposition defending lineouts use the attacking scrum half as a method of reading the possible lineout options. Your 9’s body language and positioning can quite easily give away the likely destination of the ball and if there is a drive coming.

A simple decoy is to line up the 9 at one end of the lineout and throw to the other end. He can also start a little further away, perhaps indicating a catch and drive. To deceive the opposition requires 9s to do one thing at one lineout and then the same thing at the next, but with different outcomes.


You do not need to have your regular 9 in the ‘receiver’ position. A catch and drive move might mean another player is actually better placed to take the ball on. You can place 9 at the front of the lineout and then he can run into position once the ball is thrown in.


Not every lineout will deliver a quality ball – it might be knocked back or fumbled. Good scrum halves react to this with a variety of ‘get out’ methods. The first is passing on the ball, whatever the quality. This has the merit of getting the ball away from the danger area because most, if not all of your forwards will be in front of the ball.

However, the backs are unlikely to be too pleased with this and it can simply move the problems to another part of the pitch. The more likely solution is for 9 to gather the ball, and take it back into the forwards. He will look for a player to latch on to him to give him some physical support.

The hooker is the most likely player to do this. It is something worth practising at lineout sessions.


Former Wales Sevens coach and international scrum half, Paul John says that players should practise imperfect situations. Very often, if the scrum half can only get a poor ball away along the ground, it results in more time for the 10 as the opposition is focusing on the bouncing ball.

It is important for 9s to start at the front of the line and track the ball. Even if they don’t know the call they should be able to get the ball away efficiently.


  1. Get your scrum halves to practise passing on the run, but running sideways.
  2. Put another potential ‘blocker’ to the scrum half so he has to either pass, or hold on to the ball.
  3. Drop the ball from different heights and angles to test the scrum half’s ability to adjust his run and catch before passing.
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