With Scotland preparing to face New Zealand and the haka this weekend, RW takes a look back at some famous responses to the All Blacks' pre-match tradition
At its heart, the haka is a symbolic ritual representing the challenge laid down by one team to another. But the Kapa O Pango’s group mentality belies the more individual focus that has led to some memorable personal battles breaking out before games have even kicked off.
Perhaps the ultimate example of this came at Lansdowne Road in 1989, when Ireland skipper Willie Anderson led from the front in challenging opposite number Wayne Shelford during the war dance. The two headbanded warriors finished their approaches within inches of the other’s face – a closeness that wasn’t matched by the 23-6 scoreline in Shelford’s favour – before Anderson sought to evoke the passion of the Irish faithful by raising his arms in a frenzied call for support.
The Irishman’s actions have since set a trend for players throwing down personal gauntlets at the feet of an All Black opponent. On his first Test start for England in 1997, current Leicester Tigers boss Richard Cockerill gave a full display of his passion by squaring up to New Zealand hooker Norm Hewitt as the haka unfolded around them. It was a remarkable moment of aggressive tension that Cockerill recounts forced Martin Johnson to ask: “What have you done?!” – or words to that effect. England lost 25-8 on the day.
Such was the length of Wales’ response to the haka ahead of their 2008 autumn International clash that kick-off was close to being delayed. With the intimidating battle cries of Piri Weepu & Co fading into the electrically-charged Millennium Stadium air, the Welsh players remained statuesque on the halfway line, staring down their opponents with a look of silent intent. Richie McCaw‘s men were equally still, causing referee Jonathan Kaplan to plead with both sets of players to get on with the match – although the deafening roar of the Welsh support suggested they fancied another five minutes of the drama. Unfortunately for the Welsh, the All Blacks were all too mobile during the game, as Ma’a Nonu and Jerome Kaino went over in a 29-9 win.
The Munster haka
It has often been said – including in December’s edition of Rugby World – that the nature of the haka seems to give New Zealand an unfair advantage in the final moments before kick-off. When the All Blacks played Munster in a tour game in 2008, the Limerick side undermined that advantage by returning the favour. Doug Howlett, who scored 49 tries for New Zealand, Lifeimi Mafi, Rua Tipoki and Jeremy Manning stood up to their countrymen by pre-empting the ritual and performing their own haka. The response from the Thomond Park faithful was explosive, and the tone was set for an intense evening of rugby that went down as one of the all-time great touring matches. New Zealand left it late to edge past the Munstermen 18-16.
France ‘V’ New Zealand
It is hard to imagine how intimidating a haka must be at the best of times. Before a World Cup final at Eden Park, in front of 60,000 people, it is unfathomable. Not that France let the occasion overcome them in the 2011 showpiece. Les Bleus movied into an arrowhead formation to stalk down their opponents, with skipper Thierry Dusautoir at the head of the V, and provide a stoic response to the partisan home crowd. Sadly for the travelling French supporters, their unique response did not have the same chilling effect as it had four years previously – they lost the final 8-7.
The Sipi Tau
You may not deem it to be a response, but this haka moment from the 2003 World Cup was a truly unforgettable one. Ahead of their Pool D clash, New Zealand’s haka was directly met by Tonga‘s own pre-match ritual, the Sipi Tau. What unfolded was a testosterone-fuelled 30 seconds that fired the Suncorp Stadium crowd into a frenzy, and offered a brilliant example of the rugby traditions that are still a welcome part of the modern game.
Check out this month’s edition of Rugby World to go ‘inside the haka’.