The stats are what jump out at you.
During the Junior World Rugby Trophy, the USA U20s won 91% of their own lineouts, way ahead of anyone else in the tournament - #2 was Japan at 86%.
In addition, the Americans took possession, either due to a stolen throw or an opposition infraction, 22% of the time. All told, there were 100 lineouts in USA games, and the Junior All Americans won 60 of them. Japan, the team the USA beat just barely to win the tournament won 63 out of 111.
The lineout success for the USA was due to many things – the system put in by coach Gavin Hickie, the lifters, the jumpers. But the hookers Mike Te’o and, especially, Cameron Falcon had a lot to do with that.
Given that the USA received no whistles for not straight, it’s reasonable to give a lot of credit to the hookers. With Te’o used as a wing during much of the tournament, the responsibility fell to Falcon, and the LSU Tiger stepped up to the plate. Hickie was effusive in his praise of the young hooker, and Falcon himself is right to be proud of his summer.
“Mike was stiff competition for sure,” Falcon told RUGBYMag.com. “When I went to our camp last year I wasn’t throwing spectacularly. I saw that and my performance put a fire under me. I went home determined to be better and started throwing as much as possible.”
Falcon worked on his accuracy and his technique, and when he returned to camp in February, he encountered Hickie, who is a lineout expert, and learned a new system.
“Once I got the system down my throwing was much better,” Falcon said. “We just repeated lineouts. Coach Hickie stressed execution, so we kept at it. Once you do hundreds of reps, you start to get the timing right and there’s a bond forming between the throwers, lifters and jumpers. When you know Pierce Dargan is going to be there, you can throw with more confidence.”
Hickie did not install a complex system – the U20 lineout didn’t have a lot of movement and fancy plays. He figured, rightly as it turned out, that with their height and accuracy, the USA could dominate the lineout game by simply executing some straightforward calls.
“It was all about the reps,” said Falcon. “When you have a pressure throw, like near your tryline, you feel the pressure, but because you’ve been doing the reps, you know everyone is on the same page and you can execute. I think all of that make me feel very comfortable. Gavin worked really hard to get those lineouts right. If they weren’t working he let us know, and we came together really well.”
Falcon said hookers trying to improve their lineout performance should practice the way they need to do it in a game.
“There’s no gray area – it is either straight it it’s not; it’s either a good throw or it’s not.” He said.
Faclon just started back at Louisiana State, and hopes to bring some of the things he has learned about lineout play to the Tigers.
“We didn’t have a lot of fancy calls, and I would like to bring some of that philosophy to LSU,” he explained. “We have some good jumpers, and you can get bogged down trying to do too many things. We usually have a smaller pack at LSU so we usually concentrate on getting the ball out quickly. We can do that with a good lineout.”
The experience with the USA U20s was an important one for Falcon, who joins a few other leaders on a team with some high hopes for the season.
“I love rugby,” he said. “Playing for the USA was a great honor. I am also excited about the LSU season, and I want to lead by example and keep getting better. We just need to play hard, we’ve got some promising young talent, and I think we can have a better season than last year.”