Controversies have continued to rock this year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, as opinions claim that performing the haka give the All Blacks an unfair advantage over their opponents.
The allegation popped up this time at the tournaments along with other recurring talking points such as low refereeing standards or the aerodynamics of the match ball.
The current spark to the issue is Irish columnist Ewan MacKenna, who suggested that the thigh-slapping, eye-rolling Maori challenge had been “ruthlessly exploited and commercialized and ultimately cheapened”.
“It’s completely overdone. 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,” he wrote on Pundit Arena, arguing opponents could best negate the haka’s intimidation factor by simply ignoring it.
New Zealand media fired back at 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 realize that,” Pita Pene posted in one of the rare expletive-free comments on the New Zealand Herald’s Facebook page.
“Suck it up buttercup the AB’s haka will still be here after you have gone,” added Tremain Tauhini.
History has it that a touring New Zealand Native team performed first international rugby’s haka in Britain in 1888. While the All Blacks adopted the best-known version, ‘Ka Mate’, in 1905.
They further introduced another haka in 2005 called ‘Kapa O Pango’ and alternate between the two, performing any of them depending on the opponent and circumstances of the match.
Perhaps, the New Zealand team have not always performed the haka with the fire-breathing intensity as they did in the currently in Japan.
Some footage ,making rounds on the internet 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 during a 1985 tour to Argentina.
Shelford revealed that Reid was initially reluctant to perform the haka on tour because “the Pakeha (whites), they don’t know what they’re bloody doing”.
“He’d been an All Black since 1980 and had to suffer through some shocking performances of haka. Some of them were so embarrassing.”
Shelford disclosed that the team had to vote and finally decided to keep the haka but he told them “if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right. In the end they got pretty good at it. They took on board everything Hik and I said. I was proud of them for that.”
The All Blacks’ win rate between 1905 and 1985 was a shade over 72 percent, good numbers for any top sporting team.
Same number shoots up to more than 83 percent, a difference of 11 percentage points, between the 1985 Argentina tour and the current, though not necessarily linked to the haka.
The game has changed tremendously in the past 35 years, with the All Blacks as part of the pioneers as rugby went professional.
Wellington-based stuff.co.nz columnist Kevin Norquay described the haka as “a uniquely New Zealand statement to the outside world” stopping it would be a loss for international rugby.
He said the absence would be felt by both those who love the haka and those who love to hate it. “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,” Norquay wrote.