Kiwis slam haka critics: It's part of our DNA

The All Blacks performing their customary pre-match haka before their World Cup pool match against South Africa. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The All Blacks performing their customary pre-match haka before their World Cup pool match against South Africa. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WELLINGTON • One of rugby's perennial controversies has reared its head at this year's World Cup in Japan - does performing the haka give the All Blacks an unfair advantage over their opponents?

Latest to light the touchpaper is Irish columnist Ewan MacKenna, who said the thigh-slapping, eye-rolling Maori challenge had been "ruthlessly exploited and commercialised and ultimately cheapened".

"It's completely overdone," he wrote on Pundit Arena, arguing opponents could best negate the haka's intimidation factor by simply ignoring it.

"It provides a psychological edge through self-inspiration and via an attempt at opponent intimidation.

"It also provides a small physical edge as others are forced to stand still and go briefly cold."

New Zealand media picked up MacKenna's views, airing them prominently and drawing an angry response from many Kiwis.

"It's who we are mate, it's part of our DNA, when are people going to realise that," Pita Pene wrote in one of the rare expletive-free comments on the New Zealand Herald's Facebook page.

A touring New Zealand Native team performed international rugby's first haka in Britain in 1888. The All Blacks adopted the best-known version, Ka Mate, in 1905.

They introduced another haka in 2005 called Kapa O Pango and alternate between the two depending on the opponent and circumstances of the match.

Perhaps surprisingly, the All Blacks have not always performed the haka with the fire-breathing intensity currently on display.

Archive footage shows teams in the 1920s shuffling along in what appears to be a folk dance, while in the 1970s sideburned players bob up and down sheepishly while grinning at one another.

Forwards Buck Shelford and Hika Reid, both fiercely proud of their Maori heritage, are credited with reinventing the haka to a super-charged one in 1985.

The team's win rate between 1905 and 1985 was a shade over 72 per cent. That shoots up to more than 83 per cent between the 1985 Argentina tour and now.

Wellington-based Stuff columnist Kevin Norquay said the haka is "a uniquely New Zealand statement to the outside world" and removing it will be a loss for international rugby.

"When a stadium boos the haka, you know it's got under their skin. It's been noticed, and they're trying a counter-attack, as they're entitled to do," he wrote.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2019, with the headline 'Kiwis slam haka critics: It's part of our DNA'. Print Edition | Subscribe