Rugby Union: Global supremacy may rest on cracking line-out code

Steve Bale reports on the lengths to which teams will go to gain an edge
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The line-out was once described by Danie Craven, the late president of the old South African Rugby Board, as "rugby's bastard child", but whatever its parentage it has turned into the most critical area in the game. So much so today's World Cup final will very likely be decided there.

Working out when and how to throw the ball is a scientific exercise which concludes with a bizarre concoction of the serious and silly. Every team at this tournament from the highest to the lowest have a complicated series of numbers and names designed to baffle the opposition rather than themselves. We are in a sophisticated era; there was a time when hand signals were deemed sufficient.

Sometimes it works, sometimes not. For the quarter-final in Cape Town the Australians worked out England's calls, the trick then being for England to work out that they had been worked out. They were ready. "You switch to another set of calls," Jack Rowell, the England manager, said. "But understanding that someone has cracked the code is not necessarily an easy matter."

England had enough alternatives to be able to cope. Australia, according to Rowell, change their calls three times per game. The subterfuge knows no bounds. "It is not unknown for cameramen who have a microphone with them to be induced to pick up the calls on video and pass them on to the relevant people," Rowell said.

"That's what New Zealand do to Australia, so Australia do it themselves now. This is what we are up against and it's why we have to vary the calls so much and why everyone participating in a line-out has to concentrate hard on getting it right. But I would have to say it's become quite complex for the thrower-in."