The New Zealand All Blacks' Haka is one of sport's most revered and controversial displays of aggression. Most love it, others believe it unsporting, either way it is an institution in the game of Rugby Union. Swide has the history of the famous war dance, and some strange reactions to it.
The haka is a war dance that was traditionally practiced by the Maori people before battle to lay down a challenge to the enemy. Its use was not limited to the battlefield however, and was and is practiced everywhere in New Zealand as a mark of respect and welcoming. Nor is it limited to men, there are many haka practiced only by women or by mixed groups.
The first New Zealand rugby team to tour outside the country played in New South Wales in 1884 performed a haka before each of its matches. The original haka is 'Ka Mate' and was composed by in 1810 by Te Rauparaha, of the Ngāti Toa Rangatira tribe and was based on a haka that had been performed on the Aotearoa region for centuries.
Far from the carefully choreographed scene it is today, the original haka was a far looser affair and noticeably less aggressive. But as the New Zealand Rugby Team began to establish their global dominance over the game and the mythology of the 'All Blacks' grew, so did the spectacle of the haka become more and more important to the identity of the team. The host nations became more and more enthralled with the haka and with the All Blacks even receiving criticism when it was not performed.
In 2005 a new haka was composed, the 'Kapa o Pango' which features a controversial 'throat-slitting gesture'. According to the NZRU, the gesture is to symbolise the drawing of energy into the body, which is fitting with the Maori spirit.
For sure the haka is a favourite with the rugby supporting public, in Italy, for example, the draw of the haka was partly responsible for selling out an international test in the San Siro in 2009. What is interesting though, apart form the cultural and traditional aspects is how this dance became so entwined with the national rugby team of New Zealand, and how, once the game's administrators realised the global appeal of the haka, how it became enshrined in the legislature surrounding the international game of Rugby Union with a directive of how to behave in front of the haka. The haka has become almost as big as the team itself, while it is revered by the people who watch the game, it's another matter for those who play it.
Opposition players have long been critical of the haka saying that it gives New Zealand an unfair psychological advantage by intimidation before a game. Many players have simply not known how to respond to such a challenge, some have stood respectfully, some have come up with their own way to 'accept' the challenge, others have chosen to ignore it, famously Australia's David Campese used to snub the haka and practiced warm up drills behind his own posts. Regardless, it has become a permanent part of the game and adds drama and tradition and not a little controversy to the experience of an international test match.
The New Zealand All Blacks are, without a doubt, the best rugby team in the world right now, they may be the best ever. That's why to some, they are the last team in the world to have such a provocative advantage 'enshrined' in the game's legislation. While the New Zealand Rugby Union are often accused of being precious or even indignant about the tradition, there is certainly no denying that the haka adds something beautiful to the game of rugby, there is nothing else in sport that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end every time you see it. Long may it continue.
Ireland v New Zealand 1989
In 1989 at Lansdowne Road, before a game with Ireland, the Irish linked arms and advanced in a V formation upon the performing New Zealanders until at the end Irish captain Willie Anderson was only inches from Buck Shelford's face.
World Cup Final 1995
The final in 1995 between South Africa and New Zealand at Ellis Park in Johannesburg the Springboks led by captain Francoise Pienaar defiantly faced down the All Black haka until at the end they were only a metre from the New Zealanders' faces.
England v New Zealand 1997
Before a game at Old Trafford, English hooker Richard Cockerill making his debut, chose to face down his oposite number during the haka. The referee was so worried that a fight would ensue he pushed Cockerill out of the way.
New Zealand v Tonga 2003
In the WOrld Cup game between the to Pacific nations once the All Balcks had started with their haka the Tongan team answered with their war dance the Sipi Tau.
France v New Zealand 2007
In 2007 at tthe World Cup quarter finals in Cardiff, France, having won the toss-up for the choice of uniforms, wore their red, white and blue and advanced on the All Blacks as the performed 'Kapa o Pango'. Note Chabal's eyeballing tactics.
Wales v New Zealand 2008
In 2008 Wales stood their ground after after the haka waiting for the All Blacks to be the first to back down resulting in the referee Jonathan Kaplan berating the teams for a full two minutes until the All Black captain McCaw instructed his team to break off. The noise inside the Millenium stadium was defeaning for the whole thing.
Munster v New Zealand 2009
When the All Blacks visited Thomand Park during their tour of the Northern hemisphere to play Munster, the Irish province laid down a challenge of its own. With three New Zealanders in the starting line up for Munster, they consulted with their tribal elders and came up with a haka of their own. The crowd then went deathly quiet to allow the All Blacks perform their own. Spine-tingling stuff.
France v New Zealand 2011
Before the World Cup final in 2011, France lead by captain Thiery Dussautoir advanced upon the haka breaking the 10-metre distance rule ststed by the directive. More controversial than the act was the fact that the French team were fined €10,000, which many called an 'insult'.
By Hugo Mc Cafferty