Haka should be challenged

Last night when I got home from Auckland I was trolling through my twitter feed and found the pic on the right. Yes ladies you can all go ‘Awwww’ now.

Liam Messam's baby watches the Haka

Liam Messam’s baby watches the Haka

But it got me thinking when I saw the distance between the two sides. Why do the teams have to stand so far apart? The Haka is a challenge. Make it a challenge. Remember when the sides ended up nose to nose at the end?

After tweeting my thoughts I got lots of comments and most seemed to agree with me. It used to be better when the opposition could, and did, challenge the haka.

For those amongst us who are rugby novices, a Haka has been performed by New Zealand rugby sides before most games since 1884. There have been several different versions but most of us remember the “Ka Mate” and, more recently, the  “Kapa o Pango” best.

Now, many people say that the Haka is unfair as it fires up the All Blacks. I don’t doubt that it does, but it has also been used to fire up the opposition. I am sure that hardened rugby fans will remember the Springboks advancing on the haka at the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final. Ireland advancing in 1989 to have Willie Anderson & Buck Shelford within inches of each other.  Richard Cockerill (England) coming nose to nose with Norm Hewitt (All Blacks) in 1997. The stand off between the All Blacks & the Welsh in 2008. The advancing French at the RWC2011 final. The stare down by the Wallabies on numerous occasions.

On each of the above mentioned occasions the opposition has used the energy from the Haka to play stunningly good rugby. In some cases they have won. In others they lost. But in each and every case they have taken the fight to the All Blacks.

Every rugby fan that I know loves the Haka. It is not unfair. What is unfair is the rules imposed by the IRB (International Rugby Board) that mean that opposition player & teams cannot respond without the risk of being fined or otherwise sanctioned. Listen to the crowd at any of the games where the Haka has been challenged in some way. Generally you cannot hear the haka or the start of the game because they are cheering that loud.

One of my most significant rugby memories was at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane watching the Tongans respond to the Haka with their Sipitau. Both performed at the same time. Facing each other across what seemed to be a single blade of grass. If you did not get goose bumps then you are very very cold indeed.

The IRB introduced regulations on how the Haka could be faced after what they felt were confrontations that had gone too far or were disrespectful. For a start neither the All Blacks or the opposition were allowed to advance beyond the half way line. Then they were required to remain 10 metres apart. Now it appears that the teams have to stay on their respective 10 metre lines. 20 metres apart! They may as well be still doing their warm up.

In 2006 the Welsh requested that the haka be performed after the New Zealand National anthem, but before the Welsh anthem. Unlike 2005 when the same request was agreed to, the All Blacks refused. They performed the haka in the dressing room before taking the field much to the disappointment of the crowd. This shows that it is not solely intended to intimidate the opposing team. It also has a role to play for the All Blacks as part of their preparation.

The best quote I saw in the media is from Barney Ronay, writing after the French side was fined in 2011 for advancing on the Haka at the RWC final.

”Getting rid of the Haka isn’t an option. Nobody wants that. But getting rid of the po-faced and rather precious ringfencing of its sole right to offer a pre-match challenge can only be a good thing. Why not just take the brakes off and offer the Maori war dance the ultimate compliment of taking it at face value, as a challenge that is there to be met in whatever way its opponents can muster.”

Hear, hear I say. Sides have used the Haka in the past as motivation to get fired up and do their best against the best rugby side in the world. Why has this stopped? Why is it being forced to stop by the IRB?

I, for one, appreciate that the Haka is part of New Zealand’s rugby culture. And, as an Aussie rugby fan, love seeing it performed. All we want is our right of reply.



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