Three imaginary lines are incredibly important to attacking play. They are the offside line, gain line, and tackle line.
The Offside Line is created when a breakdown forms and runs across the pitch through the body part in the ruck closest to the defence. Defenders must not stay behind this line until the ball is out and not give away needless penalties. Attackers should quickly get back onside to help their teammates when a breakdown forms. Rugby players must also consider the offside line during kicks. Players can be offside when ahead of the kicker or the person who catches the ball, so must take care not to obstruct when offside. For short kicks, offside under 10m is common among amateurs; they must actively move away and into an onside position.
The Gain Line runs through the middle of a breakdown and indicates, essentially, the point at which a tackle was made and the ball ended up. The attacking team must strive to cross the gain line on every phase. On defence, the aim should be to stop attackers behind the gain line and pressure them into turning over the ball. Both have implications for supporting players at the breakdown – going forward makes it easier to engage with momentum. If supporting players first have to track backwards and then come forward into the ruck, they not only lose momentum and power, but it’s likely that the opposition engaged first.
In rugby jargon, this is often referred to as being on the ‘front foot’ or the ‘back foot’. Teams on the front foot have momentum in their favour. Teams on the back foot are retreating and have to work harder to contest the breakdown and get into position.
The Tackle Line is an arc that runs from the ruck out wide, suggesting where a tackle is likely to occur. It indicates where a forward-rushing defender would be once the ball has been moved to that point down the line. Compared to the gain line, the tackle line is shallow close to the ruck and deeper the further away from the ruck you go.
This line is important because it gives an indication of where defenders might be when you get the ball. This shifts, of course, depending on whether or not defenders actually rush forward and at what speed if they do. It also differs when you’re on the front or back foot. Typically, you want to make your move close to the tackle line so defenders do not have time to react. If the move is made too late, defenders will already be on top of you. If the move is made too early, deep behind the tackle line, defenders will have time to react and adjust to your move.
The first receiver has an important role to play in establishing the tackle line. Standing flat or taking the ball flat while running onto it tends to hold defenders back and keeps the tackle line forward. They do not have as much time to react to a well-timed move and outer defenders cannot over-run this point or the ball carrier will get behind them. As has already been stated taking the ball too flat could play right into the hands of defenders, so players should regularly train under pressure to gain a clearer sense of how to take the ball and use it effectively.