by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
While watching a preseason match in London last week, I witnessed first hand that even professional players have something to learn regarding lineout lifting mechanics. A successful lineout lift is one part focus, one part scheme and two parts lifting / jumping mechanics.
To begin a discussion on lifting mechanics, we always start with the feet of the lifters and jumpers. If the lifters and jumpers move their pod (referred to here as a front lifter, jumper, and back lifter) slow and deliberately, it allows the defenders to easily mark them. If the jumper feet move rapidly, but do not travel a measurable distance away from where they started, it is easy for the defensive pod to cover as well. Moving your feet quickly while covering a measurable distance over the ground will provide the lineout pod with the greatest opportunity for success. Within these pods of lifters and jumpers, movement should be trained to be explosive and linear in nature. Jumpers who take a small step into the tunnel prior to jumping are being ineffective, and are placing themselves closer to the defense.
The next aspect of lifting mechanics is the location of the grips of the lifters. Experience tells me that that the best front lifters use a double leg lift and the back lifter places their hands just under the glutes of the jumper with thumbs together. The back lifter is to remain close to the jumper, but not impede their movement. This demands that the back lifter move their feet efficiently so to finish in a position that allow for the them to get underneath the jumper immediately as they begin to jump.
With the footwork and grip position has been established, it is now the execution of the jump and lift itself that requires attention. At this point it needs to be emphasized that the jumper needs to set their feet and jump. A proper lift has the front and back lifter extremely close to the jumper’s body as they are in the air. We say that a good lift sees the lifters fully extended with no daylight between the bodies of the jumper and lifters.
We believe that the lifters should lift low to high, beginning their lift at the earliest part of the jump and extending through to full extension. The jumper’s core should be activated in such a way that the jumper is very up right and taunt, resembling a steel beam through the legs, abdominals and low back.
Once these elements have been successfully executed, the jumper should be stable and safe in the air. The lifters feet should be slightly less than shoulder width with knees, hips, shoulders, and elbows fully extended. With these mechanics, the lifting pod should be able to “pin” the jumper in the air for at least a 3 second count.
Once the lift has been executed, the lifters have substantial responsibility in bringing the jumper safely back to the ground. We feel it is a cardinal sin for lifters to bail out on their jumper. Rightfully so, bailing out on a lift creates uncertainly and mistrust in the minds of the jumpers and therefore limits the success rate of the lineout pod.
Regardless of the lineout formation or technical scheme used, proper lineout mechanics are required to be successful at the line of touch, even for the professionals.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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