Does the Haka need to be protected?
25 October 2011
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The IRB have fined £2,500 France for crossing the half-way line during New Zealand’s haka before the World Cup final, but is that fair? I have always been a fan of the haka as one of the great traditions of rugby, although my view has changed a bit after my recent trip to New Zealand. But more of that later.
I thought the French response to the All Blacks’ haka was a good one – lining up in arrow formation before advancing to accept the challenge. It provided a bit of theatre before the kick-off and I’m sure gave the French an extra psychological edge. After all, why should the All Blacks be the only ones allowed to benefit mentally from their pre-match ritual?
This reminded me of the 2008 Autumn International series when Wales were accused of being disrespectful to New Zealand when they faced them during their haka and then stood their ground afterwards. There was then a stand-off while each team refused to back down leaving the hapless referee Jonathan Kaplan to try to get the players to start the game. The video below is worth watching for the sense of drama it created.
The following week the All Blacks played England at Twickenam and there was speculation as to how the home side would behave, but it wasn’t their response that was memorable but that of the supporters. I was at the game that day and while the English players faced the haka, the crowd started to sing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. The volume and passion with which it was sung was greater than at any other time I had experienced and it gave me goosebumps, a rarity for any England game.
Earlier that month the All Blacks played Munster and it was an altogether different scenario. Four Kiwis in the Munster side performed a haka with their teammates behind them and with the crowd cheering and whistling their support. Then the All Blacks performed their haka with the crowd in total silence – positively eerie.
I enjoyed my New Zealand trip and the people were great, but I’m afraid that they they seem to have had a sense of humour bypass when it comes to the All Blacks and hakas. Any criticism or joke is often met with silence or an explanation as to why it is so important to their culture. I was in New Zealand for two weeks and I am pretty sure that a day didn’t pass without our being greeted with at least one haka, and some days with many more. On the day of the Rugby World Cup opening ceremony groups of schoochildren performed hakas non-stop for an hour outside our hotel! Go to my Videos page to see just a few of those hakas
I fully respect Maori cuture and tradition but there are times when you can have too much of a good thing.
I’ll leave you with an example of when opposing hakas go a bit too far. The video below is from a Rugby league match between The Cook Islands and the NZ Maori.