Attackers and defenders outside the lineout can’t rush in until the lineout is over.
But when has the lineout ended? Lineouts now are very dynamic, so it can be hard to tell.
This article uses diagrams to explain the three clear scenarios when the lineout is done. We also discuss a more ambiguous situation and give some tips on interpretation.
Lineout Is Over When The Ball Leaves
A common lineout move is for the catcher to pop the ball down to the receiver. The receiver is often the scrumhalf but can be any player. You’ll often see a flanker as receiver.
The receiver is a part of the lineout but is outside the lineout.
In technical jargon, they “participate” in the lineout but they must stand two metres away before the ball is thrown in.
This means that when the ball is passed to the receiver, the lineout has now ended.
Lineout Is Over When The Ball Goes Past The 5 Or 15 Metre Line
A lineout is formed within the 5-metre line and 15-metre line from the touchline.
The laws say the lineout is over when the ball goes past either line.
This is regardless of whether the ball has been carried, kicked, passed, or thrown outside the boundary.
Let’s make that clear with a diagram.
The areas marked as  and  in the diagram above are outside the lineout.
If the ball crosses these lines, then it has traveled outside the lineout.
What about an overthrow?
The overthrow is a popular lineout move.
This is when the hooker throws the ball long and high beyond the last players within the lineout. An attacking player standing outside the lineout rushes forward to catch it.
Once the ball has sailed beyond the 15 metre line, it is outside the lineout – and the lineout is over.
Lineout Is Over When A Maul Moves Past The Line Of Touch
The “line of touch” is the imaginary line down the middle of the lineout.
In the diagram below, the hooker has thrown in the ball and a maul has formed. The hooker will probably rush to join the back of the maul.
But the defending players in the lineout are quick to align, and the maul hasn’t moved forward or backward yet.
The laws say that players outside the lineout must stay behind the offside line until the lineout is over.
The two offside lines are on either side of the lineout, ten meters back from the line of touch.
So, when can the waiting defenders in purple rush in to help defend the maul?
Lineout is over when a maul moves past the line of touch
In the case of a maul, the lineout is over when every foot of every player in the maul goes beyond the line of touch.
That can be in either direction. In other words, if the defending players push the lineout backward, the lineout is also over.
At this point, other defenders and attackers can rush in to join the maul.
Of course, it is difficult for players to judge if every foot is past the line of touch! The referee will give a clear indication.
If you want to learn more about this set-piece, check out our article that explains exactly what a maul is.
What Happens When A Player Peels Off? Not Clear!
Let’s say that the catcher returns to the ground and hands the ball to one of his lifters in the lineout.
The lifter peels around the back of the lineout – but still within the 15-metre line – and charges forward.
At what point has the lineout ended?
Remember that defenders outside the lineout can’t move within ten metres until the lineout is over. When can they rush to tackle the threat?
The World Rugby authorities tweak the wording of the laws from time to time.
An older version of the laws explicitly stated this:
When a lineout player hands the ball to a player who is peeling off, the lineout ends
This statement was in the laws back in 2007. But it is not in the current wording.
There is no sentence in the current lineout laws that mentions a player in the lineout peeling off.
My opinion – the lineout ends when the ball-carrier passes the line of touch
In an earlier section, we showed how the lineout wasn’t over immediately when a maul is formed. The maul has to move forward or backward.
In this case, the ball has been handed off but no maul has been formed.
My guess is that the lineout is over once the ball carrier moves past the line of touch.
More About Lineouts
Check out these articles about lineouts: