Monday, 1 December 2008

Respecting the Haka

There's been a lot of talk over here in the UK about the All Blacks pre-match haka with regards to what is appropriate or not as a "response" to the haka.

There are some that believe that the haka is simply a war dance that's used to intimidate the opposition, and therefore any and every response is acceptable. Other's believe that the performance of the haka is a rugby tradition and, like the performance of the national anthems, it deserves respect. In fact the tradition of the All Blacks haka pre-dates the singing of national anthems at rugby games by about 20 years, with national anthems being introduced in the 1905 match between Wales and New Zealand.

The response to the haka from each of the teams during the November 2008 series was meet differently by the opposition players and crowd.

The Scottish response to the haka was pretty much the normal response. The team stood in unison while there were cheers of excitement from the crowd during the haka followed by mass applause.

The Irish response to the haka was again fairly typical, but to the Kapa o Pango haka. The team stood in unison and there were cheers from the crowd. However, before the final segment of the haka the crowd erupted into a sea of noise.

The Munster response to the haka was vastly different from the previous two and was anything but typical. As the Munster team were forming up to receive the haka, four members of the team stepped forward, all of them Kiwis. As they did so the Munster team bound tighter and gathered closer to their four team mates as they began the haka directed at the All Blacks. The crowd was in full support with cheers that downed out the sound of their players. Once finished the men kept their gaze on the All Blacks while they moved backwards to re-join and bind with their team mates. The All Blacks began their haka and the crowed fall silent, no cheering, no jeering, just simple silent immersion into the performance. With the final words having just escaped the lips of the All Blacks the crowed once again drowned out the stadium with their excitement and joy for what they had just seen and what was about to come. Several All Black players were later quoted as saying that the crowd had created the best atmosphere they had ever experienced, not just during the pre-match traditions but during the entire match; with the support they showed not only to the Munster team but to the All Blacks as well and they wished they had a crowd like that for every match.

The Welsh response to the haka had the crowd making a lot of random noise and then at the end joing in unison against the haka. Once the haka finished the Welsh players didn't move and forced a minute and a half stand-off against the All Blacks despite pleas by the referee to get both teams to move away. After the match a number of players condemned the actions of the Welsh players saying that it was disrespectful.

The English response to the haka was lead completely by the crowd. During the haka the crowed filled the stadium with the song "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot". I haven't heard any All Blacks comment on the matter, but I would suspect it was taken as being disrespectful. I also find it interesting that while the All Blacks performed Ka Mate, which is a celebration of life over death, the English were singing a song about wanting to die because of hope that the next life will be better than the current one.

My personal view on the last three...

The English crowd were disrespectful to tradition of the haka, just as the English players were disrespectful to the game of rugby; four yellow cards with 30 penalties in a single match isn't ill-disciplined, it's intentional poor sportsmanship.

While the Welsh response was dramatic, it too didn't show respect to 125 years of tradition and celebration of the game. Ma'a Nonu is quoted as saying "If you’re going to stand there like that then in the past people would have charged, but it’s a rugby match and you can’t do that."

As for Munster, not only was that incredible respect from the players and crowd it was also evident in the commentary from an additional clip of the Munster haka. I watched this match in an Irish pub and it was by far the most exciting and entertaining match of the entire tour. I have nothing but respect for the team and their fans.