Haka’s currency is devalued
Has the haka had its day? Ireland prop Cian Healy bought himself a whole lot of publicity – little of it complimentary – when he slammed the All Blacks’ haka in the lead- up to the test at Lansdowne Road.
Healy seemed to be going to extraordinary lengths not to be intimidated.
He said he hated the haka and wondered why the All Blacks were allowed to perform it before tests. He also said he never used the term All Blacks, preferring to call them New Zealand.
Predictably, Healy was laughed out of court in New Zealand rugby circles, but he had a point.
I don’t hate the haka, but do feel it is so ridiculously over-done these days that its currency has been devalued. At an Olympics or Commonwealth Games there just don’t seem to be any haka-free zones. There always seems to be a haka breaking out in the New Zealand headquarters, or when New Zealanders are competing.
Television commentators invariably say, after the All Blacks’ pre- match haka: ‘‘We’re in for a great performance today. That haka was done with real feeling.’’
As if it had any relevance on the way the team was about to play!
Like Healy, I cannot understand why the All Blacks are allowed to do their haka just before a test. It means their opponents have to stand there motionless while the All Blacks take centre stage. In the era of professional sport, giving one team so obvious an advantage seems remarkable.
There’s a myth that the All Blacks have always done a pre-match haka. Not so.
They used to do it quite often when on tour – in 1928 in South Africa, the All Blacks would do a haka and the Springboks would respond with their own war cry, devised on the morning of the game.
But the All Blacks almost never did a haka at home. There was an exception before the Scotland test in Auckland in 1975 and since the 1987 World Cup it has become de rigueur. In fact, not happy with their traditional Ka Mate haka, the All Blacks now have two – they came up with the Kapo o Pango version in 2005.
Teams respond to the haka in different ways. Some stand there politely, waiting for it to finish.
Before the test at Athletic Park in 1996, the Wallabies didn’t bother watching, but headed off to do some warm-up drills. They were roundly condemned by New Zealanders for being rude. Crack Australian winger David Campese used to pointedly ignore the haka.
In 1989, Ireland marched in V formation towards the All Blacks so that by the time the haka finished, New Zealand’s Buck Shelford and Ireland’s Willie Anderson were nose to nose. To his credit, Shelford praised the Irish for their spirited acceptance of the challenge.
In 1997, England hooker Richard Cockerill was only centimetres away from his opposite, Norm Hewitt, by the end of the haka. Francois Pienaar led a similarly aggressive South African response before the 1995 World Cup final.
There is actually no satisfactory response to a haka. To stand there meekly offers New Zealand an edge. To reply aggressively risks being labelled culturally unfeeling.
I’m with Cian Healy. As a pre- test activity, the haka has had its day.
Outspoken: Does Cian Healy have a point about the haka?