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'The Wall' was delightfully brought back to life by the NZ Barbarians

An absolutely classic move made a reappearance at Eden Park over the weekend.

THE NEW ZEALAND Barbarians recorded a 34-17 win over New Zealand Maori in an enjoyable clash at Eden Park on Saturday, pulling out a classic move for their final try.

Wall Who doesn't love the wall?

Strong individual performances from the likes of George Moala, Patrick Osborne, Brad Shields, Tom Taylor and 20-year-old openside Blake Gibson underlined the depth within New Zealand rugby at present.

An ankle injury for experienced wing Cory Jane was cause for concern, but All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen will have been happy with what he saw in a game that was essentially a national trial.

For the neutral observer, however, the reappearance of ‘The Wall’ was perhaps the most thrilling aspect of the fixture.

The Barbarians ran the play twice in the final 10 minutes of the game, the second attempt leading to a wonderful try for out-half Taylor. The first exposition of the old-school move very nearly led to a score for big Ben Tameifuna, as we can see below.

Wall 1

The Barbarians opted to tap this 77th-minute penalty, rather than kicking into touch or taking a shot at goal. Seeing four forwards line up to form the wall drew instant excitement from the commentary team and the crowd in Auckland.

The premise is quite clear in this move, with the bank of four players just to the right of scrum-half Mitch Drummond preventing the defence from getting a clean view of where the ball is.

Wall 1.2

The defensive team has to worry about Drummond running a loop around the wall (yellow), heavyweight prop Tameifuna steaming forward on a masked direct line (blue), and the possibility that any of the four players in the wall could turn and run at them with the ball (red).

Naturally enough, this can lead to defences coming forward with a relatively easy linespeed, wary of being wrong-footed by a late change of direction.

Wall 1.2

We see as much on the reverse angle above, as lock Hayden Triggs and one-time Munster hooker Quentin MacDonald approach with some trepidation.

Clearly it helps that Tameifuna weighs close to 140kg, and it could be argued that the wall itself had very little to do with the prop going close to scoring a try here (he touched down just short of the tryline), but the elements of deception and decoy – however minor – do add to the difficulty of getting into position to make a firm tackle.

Chiefs front row Tameifuna was denied on this occasion, but the Barbarians weren’t discouraged and just over a minute later another penalty provided them with a second chance.

Time to run a variation.

Wall 2

This time replacement scrum-half Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi – the exceptionally promising 20-year-old who has just signed a two-year deal with the Hurricanes – is the man to launch the move.

The Barbarians again shift the ball from the first player in the wall to the second, but then move it back to Tahuriorangi rather than hitting Tameifuna through the middle of the wall.

From there, Tahuriorangi finds out-half Ihaia West, who screens a pass behind centre Seta Tamanivalu into the hands of the brilliant Richard Buckman, one of the most effective players in Super Rugby this year.

Wall 2.1

The decoy run from Tamanivalu is important here, as he manages to completely remove Maori centre Charlie Ngatai from the game, therefore providing Buckman with an initial one-on-one situation against Sean Wainui.

Ngatai appeals for a penalty as Tamanivalu bumps him to the ground and it’s certainly easy to argue the Maori captain’s case, but on this occasion the referee allows play to continue.

Buckman takes his one-on-one chance by getting outside Wainui, drawing in blond-haired fullback Damian McKenzie and opening the space to throw a sublime one-handed offload to the waiting Taylor.

Buckman

Clearly, the above is an exceptional moment of skill from ‘Barracuda’ Buckman and has nothing to do with the wall. Indeed, it could again be suggested that the initial set-up by that bank of Barbarians forwards has little association with the success of the move.

However, there is again an element of unease in having to defend this scenario, one the Maori players probably haven’t come up against too often. They stack the right side of their posts, with up to eight defenders covering the wall set-up, leaving a hint more space on the outside edge.

Even if we’re not looking at the wall as a spell-binding, ingenious move that is impossible to defend against, it is a hell of a lot of fun. In a sport that can struggle to capture the imagination at times, moments like this pair from the New Zealand Barbarians must be embraced.

They’re far from the first team to have success with this move, of course, with one of the most striking examples coming from Sale Sharks against the Ospreys in 2007, Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe the man to dot down.

Source: EpicOB/YouTube

‘The wall’ is a move that was particularly popular in the late ’80s and early ’90s, although it’s still seen from time to time in amateur games around the world.

Questions over its legality are understandable, but as long as the players in the wall are not directly impeding a defender from making a tackle, it’s fair game. That possibility is obviously reduced by the defence having to start 10 metres back in the examples here.

Solutions for defending the wall? Maintaining an extremely solid defensive line is priority number one, as individual defenders are likely to have less time to react to a late pass. If the defensive side can get off their line with uniformly aggressive speed, it’s a good starting point.

One old-school solution was hammering a late shoulder into the players who form the initial wall, the intention being to convince them that the health of their backs was not worth risking for a clever set-piece play again. Reactive but often effective.

Either way, the hope is that teams at the top level of the game continue to have a little fun with their starter plays. Long live ‘the wall’.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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