Secret of a good haka — pick an ugly leader
THE All Blacks’ haka, performed just before kick-off, has become one of the iconic sporting traditions and it will help to set the mood for explosive Tests in this series. Since the Lions’ arrival, they have been greeted by countless versions of the Maori greeting, which serves to lay down a challenge — including a world-record performance by nearly 8,000 people opposite their hotel in Rotorua. Many of the matches have been preceded by hakas and the All Blacks will make a late decision about whether to confront their opponents with the traditional Ka
mate Ka mate or the notoriously aggressive Kapa O Pongo. Being entrusted with the task of leading the haka is a prestigious honour for New Zealand players and here, LIAM MESSAM (right), a back-rower of Maori heritage who previously held that special role, answers five key questions from
Sportsmail about how it all works…
1 HOW ARE HAKA LEADERS CHOSEN?
‘In an All Blacks environment, the leadership group chooses the leader of the haka. It doesn’t matter what nationality you are. Obviously a few Samoan boys have led it. When I was there, I was trying to get Kieran Read to lead it, because he’s a pretty good haka leader but those (senior) guys in the squad make that decision. I guess they try to get a native to lead it, because it is our haka, but if not there are other guys who are suitable. The best thing to do is to get the ugliest person to lead it — that’s why, at the moment, TJ (Perenara) and Aaron Smith do it!’
2 WHO DECIDES WHICH HAKA WILL BE PERFORMED?
‘The skipper chooses which haka to use, on the day. He will choose it based on how he feels the week has gone. People sometimes think that it is always Kapa O
Pango for bigger Test matches, but both hakas play a significant role in the team, so it is just about how they feel on the field, on the day. The skipper makes that call.’
3 WHEN DO THE ALL BLACKS PRACTISE THE HAKA?
‘You practise when you are small. Pretty much by the time you are in that team, you know the haka — you know the words and the actions. We don’t have any practices, you are just expected to know it. It starts when you are little kids. It is up to a player, if they don’t know the haka — the actions or the words — to come up to one of the boys who do know it and ask for help!’
4 DO YOU THINK IT BRINGS A PSYCHOLOGICAL ADVANTAGE?
‘I don’t think it does give you an edge by doing a haka before the game. Both teams are getting ready for battle and it’s just who we are and what we do. It is in our DNA to set the challenge. Some people might think we are getting an extra edge from it, and if that is what they are thinking then obviously we are!’
5 IS IT IMPORTANT THE OPPOSITION RESPECT THE HAKA?
‘We’ve had the Welsh and the French doing different things a couple of times. We have learned from those experiences. Most of the time, it is just about doing the haka and then getting on with the job. I was sitting in the stand in Cardiff when the Welsh boys just stayed standing there after the haka and that was pretty cool to watch!’