When Are Lineouts Not Straight In Rugby?

When the hooker throws the ball into the lineout, you may hear the referee blow the whistle and yell “not straight”.

But sometimes it looks as if the ball hasn’t travelled in a straight line, but the lineout continues. Hookers, catchers, and referees all have a difficult life when the wind is blowing hard!

This article explains the laws and interpretations around “how straight” the throw must be.

What Does “Not Straight” Mean In The Lineout?

The laws of rugby always aim for a fair contest for possession.

This means that when a lineout forms, the hooker can’t chuck the ball diagonally towards a teammate.

To ensure a fair contest in the lineout, the hooker must throw the ball straight down the middle of the gap.

If the ball deviates from a straight line, the referee will stop play and award the lineout to the opposition.

To illustrate what this means, let’s take a look at how the gap is formed between the opposing teams in the lineout.

Diagram Of The Gap In A Lineout

When the ball goes over the sideline, the lineout is formed at the “line of touch”. The line of touch is the point at which the ball crossed the line.

Players from both teams form two straight lines parallel to the sideline.

If you’re wondering, check out our article on how many players must be in a lineout.

Both teams must keep a one-metre gap from each other. In other words, each line must be half a metre back from the line of touch.

The gap is illustrated in the diagram below.

Players must not “close” the gap

The players are allowed to move to change position, but they’re not allowed to encroach into the gap. This is called “closing” the gap.

You’ll often see players edging ever so slightly toward the line of touch to get an unfair advantage.

Referees may not pick up on a slight adjustment, but they will penalize players on either side who close the gap unfairly.

Isn’t it impossible to catch the ball?

But wait – if the players can’t close the gap – then surely they can’t catch a ball thrown down the middle?

Good spot. Once the ball has left the hooker’s hands, the gap rule no longer applies.

The jumper must move towards the ball and jump almost simultaneously. They just can’t jump or land “across” the line of touch (this is also an infringement.)

Sometimes jumpers get their trajectory wrong but can arch a long frame and throw one arm out to catch the ball single-handedly. This is why locks are so tall!

Windy Conditions Blowing The Ball

Windy conditions make life very difficult for the hooker.

A very pedantic referee could blow the whistle at every lineout on a blustery day due to the ball not flying straight from the touchline to the tail of the lineout.

This would make for a very poor game of rugby. Referees do have leeway when interpreting whether the ball was straight…or just “straight enough”.

This leeway should still ensure that the opposition has a fair chance at catching the ball.

Let’s say the ball is thrown high and long to the tail of the lineout. If it’s blown off course toward the end of the throw, the referee may make a judgement call based on the actions of the opposition.

If the opposition players at the tail don’t jump, then they aren’t competing for the ball. A sympathetic referee will allow for a ball slightly askew in this situation.

Tips For Throwing Straight On Windy Days

The longer the throw, the more likely it is not to be straight on a windy day.

Throw to two

The most basic advice is to throw hard and short to the number two position.

In the diagram below, the players at positions one and three will lift number two.

Unfortunately, the opposition will be expecting this. But the harder you throw the ball, the harder it is for them to intercept it.

Throw to one

An alternative is to throw to one i.e. the player nearest the touchline turns and takes the shortest ball possible – and without jumping. The ball just has to travel past the five-metre line before it’s caught.

Why don’t teams always do this? The problem is that an opposition player is standing within the five-meter line and the touchline before the ball is thrown.

This means that a low ball must be thrown fast and hard. Windy days are often wet too, so a hard pass can be a liability i.e. a fumble.  

Repeated Long Throws That Are Not Straight

What if the knuckle-headed caller of the lineout repeatedly demands that the hooker throws long in gale conditions?

You may shrug your shoulders and think – well, the worst thing that happens is that the opposition keeps getting difficult throw-ins at the same spot.

An annoyed referee is perfectly within his or her rights to award a free kick to the opposition for repeated crooked throws.

Widening The Gap To Help With Straight Throws

Referees will often decide to widen the gap past one metre on a windy day.

If your team is throwing in the ball, be sure to comply quickly and take a step back. Make a big deal about doing so!

The opposing team won’t want to make life easier for the thrower so they will probably try not to comply.

With any luck (for the throwing team), the referee will get annoyed with a team not following instructions and penalize them!

More About Lineouts

Check out these articles about lineouts: