Sunday Times

Haka un­der at­tack

All Blacks vs brand power

- By PETER BILLS Sports · New Zealand · New Zealand national rugby union team · Jonah Lomu · England · England national football team · Christchurch · Cape Town · Australia · Australia national football team · Australia national rugby union team · Colin Meads · Dunedin · Iceland · South Africa national rugby union team · Ringo Starr · The Beatles · Rugby · Christchurch International Airport · TJ Perenara · John Eales · Ashwin Willemse · Andrew Mehrtens · Matt Dawson · New Zealand Government · Island Records · Robert Loftus Owen Versfeld · Pretoria

There is some­thing that young peo­ple start watch­ing and un­der­stand­ing at a very early age in New Zealand. The haka. As an ex­pres­sion of na­tional iden­tity, the haka su­per­sedes all else. Some said it was first seen on an in­ter­na­tional rugby ground in 1888 when per­formed by the “New Zealand Na­tives” tour­ing party. But it is al­most cer­tain that it had by that point al­ready been per­formed on New Zealand fields, in matches in­volv­ing Maori teams.

Of course, it goes back deep into the mists and le­gends of early Maori history. It is an an­cient pos­ture dance, a chal­lenge from a tribe of one area to an­other. Hakas were tra­di­tion­ally used to pre­pare a war party for bat­tle. Ka Mate, com­posed al­most 140 years ago by Te Rau­paraha, Ngati Toa Ran­gatira, is the most fa­mous haka.

All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith has never for­got­ten the first time he wit­nessed it, when he was only three or four years old. “It’s one of those spe­cial mo­ments. It’s the time the TV gets turned right up and ev­ery­one goes quiet. It stops the party. All the men will watch the rugby, not all the women. But both will watch the haka.”

By the time he was six, Smith knew how to do it. Dur­ing the 1995 Rugby World Cup in SA, there he was, in front of the tele­vi­sion, whoop­ing and hol­ler­ing be­fore the semi­fi­nal match where Jonah Lomu marched all over Eng­land.

“We were al­lowed up to see it, it was so im­por­tant. A cou­ple of friends were do­ing it with me. I don’t know whether we were do­ing it right but we were up there do­ing all the ac­tions. It was pretty crazy. As a kid, it fires your imag­i­na­tion. It is a bit of an out-of-body ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Smith’s dad is Pakeha [white], his mum Maori. The haka, he says, “is our one iden­tity thing that only we have as a rugby na­tion that no­body else has, out­side the Pa­cific. The haka is not for Maori alone. It’s for ev­ery­one in our coun­try. All those dif­fer­ent cul­tures add dif­fer­ent things.”

One day, when he had be­come a reg­u­lar in the na­tional team, Smith was in­vited to lead the haka. “I was first asked in 2013. There were a few in­juries, and guys like Mealamu and Mes­sam weren’t there. But at the time I said no. I felt like I hadn’t played enough games and I didn’t yet have the re­spect to do it. I didn’t want to do it with­out that re­spect. I didn’t re­gret turn­ing it down, al­though I re­mem­ber be­ing at that game and think­ing, ‘I could have led this’. But when I led the haka it was with more mana [hon­our, pres­ence or great au­thor­ity].”

Mana is the key to a haka, ac­cord­ing to Smith. Who­ever leads it has usu­ally been chief or head­man. Mana is an in­trin­sic part of the Maori cul­ture and is hard-earned.

Smith’s mana was dam­aged by an in­ci­dent he got him­self into with a young lady at Christchur­ch Air­port in 2016 [they were seen en­ter­ing a dis­abled toi­let to­gether]. Sub­se­quent to his in­dis­cre­tion, his role as haka leader was raised.

“I was one of the first to say, I should not be do­ing it, and that is what hap­pened. You lose mana when you do things like that. TJ Per­e­nara took over and I was happy for him to do that be­cause of the mana I had lost from what I had done.”

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says: “You have got to have char­ac­ter. You don’t have to be per­fect but a player has got to have a char­ac­ter that has got the abil­ity to stand up to scru­tiny and the pres­sure that comes from be­ing an All Black. If his char­ac­ter de­faults don’t al­low him to do that, then he is only go­ing to take us some­where where we don’t hon­our, re­spect or en­hance the legacy of this great team.”

By Oc­to­ber 2017, in the Cape Town Test against SA, Smith had re­claimed his place as leader of the haka.

The haka af­fects peo­ple in a va­ri­ety of ways. Aus­tralian David Cam­pese used to take him­self off to a cor­ner of the field, chip a ball into the air and catch it while the All Blacks were per­form­ing it. For­mer Wal­laby cap­tain John Eales turned his back on it once and has re­gret­ted do­ing so ever since.

For­mer South African wing Ashwin Willemse sensed he’d cracked it as far as star­ing down his op­po­nent dur­ing a haka: “I’d been very ex­cited about the game be­cause, in my mind, a match against the New Zealand All Blacks was my first ‘of­fi­cial’ Test match. I would not have felt com­plete, a true Spring­bok, if I hadn’t played the All Blacks. It was the ul­ti­mate thing to do; face the haka and play them in a Test. Dur­ing the haka, I had watched my op­po­site num­ber Doug Howlett in­tently. Then he did some­thing that made me think he was scared. Just be­fore the end of the haka, he put his head down and looked away. I told my­self that it meant I’d won and that he was ei­ther afraid or not pre­pared to face the chal­lenge, as I was. I drew strength from that.”

Howlett scored two tries and New Zealand won 52-16.

“It was clear I was com­pletely de­luded for hav­ing held such a be­lief,” grinned the ex-Spring­bok.

For­mer Wal­laby coach John Con­nolly says that, in the old days, it was like “who cares?” when the haka was per­formed. “They waved their arms around a bit but it was all pretty in­sipid. But now they have turned it around to mean some­thing. It has be­come a real sym­bol of dis­ci­pline and de­ter­mi­na­tion in the team. They have put val­ues around the haka which they trans­fer to their rugby. They have been very clever in that re­spect.”

Nick Farr-Jones was one who had to face them down. For the 1991 Aus­tralia World Cup-win­ning cap­tain, New Zealand was al­ways the team to beat.

But for much of his time as a Wal­laby, Farr-Jones says Aus­tralian teams didn’t face the haka. They would stand maybe 60m away, he re­mem­bers. It was only when the com­bat­ive David Codey was cho­sen as Aus­tralia cap­tain that, for the only time, the Wal­la­bies ac­cepted their new cap­tain’s de­mand that they face the haka and eye­ball the All Blacks.

Farr-Jones said: “Per­son­ally, I loved stand­ing up to the haka. Why? Be­cause it’s such a great na­tion of 4.8mil­lion peo­ple and re­spect is a re­ally im­por­tant thing. So rather than be 60m away and turn your back, to get up there and eye­ball them sent a sign of re­spect to their na­tion. Hope­fully, you are send­ing a sec­ond mes­sage. Like, guys we re­spect you, but you are go­ing to have to play bloody well to beat us to­day. We are not go­ing to roll over. You want to send back that sec­ond chal­lenge.”

The haka is a bold, vi­brant sym­bol of na­tional iden­tity but there con­tinue to be those in New

Zealand who ques­tion it. A few months be­fore he died in 2017, leg­endary All Black Sir Colin Meads said: “We never did the haka in New Zealand, only over­seas … They haka ev­ery­thing now. Some dig­ni­tary or sports per­son turns up or a film star at the air­port and they haka them. It is ridicu­lous.”

For­mer All Blacks fly­half An­drew Mehrtens has called it “too com­mer­cialised”. Ex-Eng­land scrumhalf Matt Daw­son reck­ons it has lost its mys­tique. An­other for­mer All Black, prop for­ward Kees Meeuws, says: “It has lost its mana. It has be­come a show­piece. They should do it at cer­tain Test matches but not all. It was good a few years ago when they had a choice. But now they play 14 Test matches a year and that’s too much as far as the haka is con­cerned. We should ei­ther have it at home or just away from home, like it used to be. Not both.”

Is an ex­pres­sion of iden­tity some­thing New

Zealand still needs in 2018? An ar­gu­ment may once have been made for it along the lines of it rep­re­sent­ing a lit­tle coun­try fight­ing above its weight against world op­po­nents.

Gil­bert Enoka ad­mits New Zealand rugby men them­selves reached some­thing of a cross­roads over the haka. “There were a lot of guys say­ing they felt we were haka-ed out. They said: ‘We do the haka all the time, we have TV cam­eras in our faces.’ They said: ‘All I want to do is get the damn thing done and over with.’ They said: ‘It’s not for us any­way. It’s just for the Maori peo­ple.’ So we had a real crisis of iden­tity where we had to sit down and say: ‘Who are we as New Zealan­ders, who are we as All Blacks?’ That was re­ally where Kapa O Pango was born.”

Kapa O Pango, a new haka cre­ated by Derek Lardelli of the Ngati Porou, took a year to chore­o­graph. It mod­i­fied the first verse of Ko Niu Tirini, the haka used by the 1924 All Blacks. Many ex­perts in Maori cul­ture were asked for their views. It is re­garded as com­ple­ment­ing Ka Mate and is used for spe­cial oc­ca­sions. First per­formed be­fore a 2005 TriNa­tions in­ter­na­tional against SA in Dunedin, the words used were con­sid­ered more spe­cific to the rugby team than Ka Mate. They re­fer to the war­riors in black and the sil­ver fern. For most of the New Zealand play­ers, it was a more ap­pro­pri­ate haka.

In 2009, the New Zealand gov­ern­ment as­signed in­tel­lec­tual-prop­erty rights in the tra­di­tional Maori haka, the Ka Mate, to Ngati Toa, a North Is­land tribal group. The new agree­ment was mainly sym­bolic but it was con­sid­ered hugely im­por­tant by Maori lead­ers to pre­vent, as the of­fi­cial set­tle­ment let­ter said, “the mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion and cul­tur­ally in­ap­pro­pri­ate use of the Ka Mate haka”.

But given that the new pro­fes­sional game is now ut­terly de­pen­dent on tele­vi­sion money, is it not the case that, in ef­fect, tele­vi­sion is the real rights holder of the haka? Tele­vi­sion ex­ec­u­tives will be more than aware of the truth of Aaron Smith’s words: women might not watch the whole game, but they watch the haka. So would tele­vi­sion ac­cept it if the All Blacks de­cided to re­duce the num­ber of oc­ca­sions on which the haka was per­formed? It seems un­likely.

The crit­i­cal point is surely that the haka should be nur­tured, pro­tected, kept truly spe­cial. Do it at every turn, be­fore every game on every oc­ca­sion, and it will, in time, lose its al­lure. Even worse, it will be­come just a bit of show­biz. Does any­one want that?

Is it not the case that, in ef­fect, tele­vi­sion is the real rights holder of the haka?

● The Spring­boks take on New Zealand at Lof­tus Vers­feld next week­end and few of them will be aware that the last time the All Blacks lost there Ringo Starr still had to come to terms with life af­ter the Bea­tles.

That year was 1970 and on their four sub­se­quent vis­its to Pre­to­ria, the All Blacks have struck at the heart of SA.

The Spring­boks did beat the rebel New Zealand Cava­liers there in 1986, but that tour­ing team by no means of­fi­cially rep­re­sented the All Blacks, let alone New Zealand.

The real deal ar­rived at Lof­tus 10 years later and promptly sealed a first se­ries win on SA soil. Coach John Hart re­turned with his ma­raud­ers in 1999 and won there again be­fore John Mitchell’s side de­liv­ered some­thing akin to a coup d’etat in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal by scor­ing more than 50 points in a record beat­ing of the old foe.

Alain Rol­land had barely called full time when the 16-52 de­feat was dubbed “the Van Riebeeck Test” for in part mim­ick­ing the year in which the Dutch ex­plorer dropped an­chor in the Cape of Good Hope.

There was noth­ing good about the Boks that day.

Cen­tre Gcobani Bobo watched that match from a prime po­si­tion, but he wasn’t there as an observer. He was on the Bok bench which he was never asked to va­cate.

“The whole build-up was just awk­ward,” Bobo re­called, still a lit­tle de­spair­ingly. “We flew up from Dur­ban and for some rea­son we stayed quite far out­side Pre­to­ria. Usu­ally you try and stay close to the match venue but we didn’t. You have to pre­pare play­ers men­tally for that kind of thing. Don’t sur­prise them with it.”

Bobo re­calls that the All Blacks quickly hit their stride. “We were up against play­ers like Joe Roko­coko and Car­los Spencer who were cli­max­ing in their ca­reer. We tar­geted their big play­ers, their for­wards. That plan fell down.”

De­spite the Boks back-ped­alling, left wing Ashwin Willemse had a blin­der. He was a beacon in a sea of Spring­bok medi­ocrity.

“It was very much the break­out game for Ashwin,” Bobo said. “He scored an in­cred­i­ble try. He had a work rate in that game that noone could match. He was like a sol­dier in a los­ing bat­tle.”

Ru­dolf Straeuli, un­der whose tute­lage the Spring­boks played that day, is less vivid about what tran­spired.

What he does know is that the All Blacks have found ways of deal­ing with the de­bil­i­tat­ing ef­fects of high al­ti­tude.

“Usu­ally at Lof­tus and El­lis Park it should be more dif­fi­cult for them be­cause of the al­ti­tude. How­ever, at both they have hit us with a vengeance,” Straeuli, who is now the CEO of the Li­ons, pointed out.

“It (Lof­tus) has been good for the All Blacks and for the Cru­saders (though not in play-off matches),” noted Bobo. “Lof­tus leaves you with the sense that there is more width, that the field some­how is wider than, say, El­lis Park.

“It is a hard, quick sur­face made for a quick-tempo, high-oc­tane game. A team like the Cru­saders make sure that they use their bench well there. They tar­get cer­tain ar­eas. The New Zealan­ders gen­er­ally feel com­fort­able at Lof­tus.”

In an­tic­i­pa­tion of a high tempo, high in­ten­sity clash, both men ex­pect cru­cial, if not game-chang­ing in­ter­ven­tions from the sub­sti­tutes’ bench.

“Fit­ness will play a huge role,” said Straeuli. “We saw that too at El­lis Park the one year when they scored six tries and we scored four. You play to score tries and win with a bonus point. I can­not see the match de­gen­er­at­ing into a kick­ing con­test. You are go­ing to see tries,” said Straeuli.

“It will be a ques­tion of who do you have? Who can change a game?” said Bobo about the re­spec­tive benches.

“Con­di­tion­ing and fit­ness will be im­por­tant and both teams will feel it. We have to make sure we get the right com­bi­na­tions,” said the for­mer cen­tre.

With in­jury rul­ing out Damian de Al­lende and Lukhanyo Am, Bobo be­lieves the mid­field part­ner­ship of An­dre Esterhuize­n and Jesse Kriel may give the Boks some con­fronta­tional im­pe­tus in mid­field. He also con­tends the guile of El­ton Jan­tjies may change things later. “I think Rassie may be onto some­thing if he goes that route, but some of that may de­pend on how we go against the Wal­la­bies,” said Bobo.

Straeuli ad­vo­cated the selection of at­tack­minded play­ers. “It will be a good game. You’ll see beau­ti­ful tries. I think it will be like the last game. Both teams will have the am­bi­tion to score.

“As was the case against Eng­land in the first Test here, I will go with at­tack­ers in the side. You can’t be too de­fen­sive go­ing into this game. De­fence will come by it­self, I’d go to score tries. If things don’t en­tirely go their way in Ar­gentina they may be un­der pres­sure to win at Lof­tus,” said Straeuli.

As much as the All Blacks, as the be­stranked team in the world, will be de­ter­mined to set the record straight, the for­mer Bok coach be­lieves the cur­rent crop un­der Rassie Eras­mus can bot­tle some of their ex­pe­ri­ence in Wellington.

Lof­tus leaves you with the sense that there is more width Gcobani Bobo For­mer Spring­bok cen­tre

The ABs won’t feel the pres­sure. They’ll see the chal­lenge Ru­dolf Straeuli For­mer Spring­bok coach

“There was a lot of emo­tion and a lot of pas­sion, things that pent up af­ter the de­feat in Bris­bane. The guys were un­der pres­sure. I doubt we are un­der the same pres­sure but they can re­peat it. It was good to see the play­ers’ emo­tions af­ter that Test and you could see what it meant to them. They now have a taste of that.

“We’ve had suc­cess here against the All Blacks. The Bulls beat the Hur­ri­canes in the first match of Su­per Rugby this sea­son. The guys know they can win but on the day you have to ex­e­cute. We have play­ers like Aphiwe (Dyan­tyi), who are step­pers and at­tack­ers. We de­fended well in New Zealand and the right men were on the field (at the end). There were cool heads and the guys scram­bled well. War­ren (White­ley) run­ning down (TJ) Per­e­nara un­der the poles was cru­cial be­cause that would have lev­elled things.”

Straeuli is in no doubt the All Blacks will have re­venge front of mind when they fly here from Ar­gentina. “As much as it was a good win for us over there, they will come for re­venge,” he said about the Boks’ mem­o­rable win in Wellington two weeks ago.

“Much like us, they don’t like los­ing. They, how­ever, man­age it bet­ter when it comes to bounc­ing back. The ABs won’t feel the pres­sure. They’ll see the chal­lenge.”

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 ?? Pic­ture: Alan Ea­son ?? KA MATE The mighty All Blacks per­form the haka ahead of a clash against the Spring­boks at Nel­son Man­dela Bay Sta­dium in Port El­iz­a­beth in 2011.
Pic­ture: Alan Ea­son KA MATE The mighty All Blacks per­form the haka ahead of a clash against the Spring­boks at Nel­son Man­dela Bay Sta­dium in Port El­iz­a­beth in 2011.
 ?? Graphic: Nolo Moima Source: en.espn.co.uk/stats­guru Pic­ture: TBSG ,Getty and Gallo Im­ages ??
Graphic: Nolo Moima Source: en.espn.co.uk/stats­guru Pic­ture: TBSG ,Getty and Gallo Im­ages

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