Home Features MacKenna On Monday: Haka Gives New Zealand An Unfair Advantage & Needs To Stop

MacKenna On Monday: Haka Gives New Zealand An Unfair Advantage & Needs To Stop

Given what would follow, it wasn’t what David Campese was best remembered for that day.

However, it may have been his finest moment throughout the entire afternoon.

The date was 27 October 1991. The location was the old and haunting concrete sarcophagus of Lansdowne Road. New Zealand were just inside their own half doing the Haka in the moments leading up to that World Cup semi-final, but only 14 Australians were needlessly standing there watching them prance about. It was because the New South Wales wing was back near his own try-zone putting boot to ball in preparation for battle. Besides, by then he’d already seen the jaded routine play out on 21 other occasions and didn’t feel the need to observe yet again.

Going out for that match, his coach Bob Dwyer had suggested that his players do whatever warm-up worked best.

“I was quite happy, then, to go and kick the ball,” Campese would later explain of his choice. “That was how I did it, and it worked.”

Shortly after, he picked up possession in centre-field, slid across the defensive line and touched down in the corner, before next putting the All Blacks’ John Kirwan into a dizzy daze while allowing Tim Horan to take their lead out to double-digits.

Seven World Cups later though and we are back to pandering to the dance.

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 21: New Zealand perform the Haka ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group B game between New Zealand and South Africa at International Stadium Yokohama on September 21, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

That’s unfortunate as New Zealand are justifiably big-headed enough without a massaging of their already massive egos. Yet even World Rugby have it in their rules that to not stand on your own 10-metre line and watch a bunch stick out their tongues and slap their thighs is worthy of a fine and a telling off. That’s some intrinsic planning from a governing body that had threatened to declare Ireland-Scotland a draw without a pass taking place in their premier competition if the local weather didn’t improve.

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 21: New Zealand players perform the Haka prior to the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group B game between New Zealand and South Africa at International Stadium Yokohama on September 21, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

We know this because, in 2011, the French federation were fined £10,000 for having the nerve to shuffle forward aggressively as a response.

We know this because our own authorities needed special dispensation to form the figure eight in memory of Anthony Foley when facing it in Chicago.

We know this because they fawned a diplomatic incident when Brian O’Driscoll had the sheer temerity to hurl some blades of grass into the air.

Indeed if we are to engage in these cultural activities in rugby, perhaps Ireland’s opponents should have to spend a few minutes watching our players sitting around a table in midfield, sipping cups of tea and bemoaning everything from economic migrants to the latest bin charges.

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 21: New Zealand perform the Haka ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group B game between New Zealand and South Africa at International Stadium Yokohama on September 21, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

Say what you will about the Welsh, but credit where it’s due for they not only called out the bullshit, they stood up to it and stood firm around it. A dozen years ago when New Zealand came to town, they asked that the Haka take place after the visiting anthem, allowing the glorious and beautiful Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau to ring out last and set their home scene. The All Blacks, however, threw a pathetic strop, flung their toys far from the pram, and ended up amusing themselves with it within the confines of their dressing room. Where it should stay.

Only it hasn’t.

Instead, it returned, increasing in length from what used to be a mere 30 seconds long, which is hardly surprising as it’s been ruthlessly exploited and commercialised and ultimately cheapened. That’s not to say it doesn’t have beauty and meaning to Maoris, but Irish dancing can having meaning to us and that doesn’t change the fact that it was monetised by Michael Flatley turning to liquid plastic on stage.

By now we know well that rugby has a problem around always favouring the big boys.

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 21: New Zealand players perform the Haka prior to the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group B game between New Zealand and South Africa at International Stadium Yokohama on September 21, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

We saw it first thing on Saturday when an assault by Reece Hodge against Fiji was deemed all well and good and that was merely the worst offence rather than a stand-alone incident. We saw it next thing Saturday when Angus Gardner made sure France got over the line against Argentina. But we also saw it last thing on Saturday before a true epic between two serious heavyweights.

There’s a practical reason why the Haka shouldn’t happen as, while 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. There’s another reason too though as there is a huge lack of self-awareness about this. Again there are those who’ll say it’s native and it is to some, but the majority of New Zealand players haven’t been Maori. Instead, they descend from forefathers who were actually ruthless oppressors of natives.

The Haka was first seen by Europeans when James Cook made his voyage in 1769. Accompanied by Joseph Banks, the latter wrote that of it that “the War Song and dance consist of various contortions of the limbs during which the tongue is frequently thrust out incredibly far and the orbits of the eyes enlarged so much that a circle of white is distinctly seen around the iris. In short, nothing is omitted which can render a human shape frightful and deformed which I suppose they think terrible”. Thereafter a long line of missionaries spent an age trying to get rid of a song and dance that to this day is misunderstood as a physical challenge when in fact it’s meant as a celebration of life.

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 21: New Zealand players perform the Haka prior to the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group B game between New Zealand and South Africa at International Stadium Yokohama on September 21, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Soon “they”, as Joseph Banks put it, were having their possessions and their homes taken and were slaughtered across the 1800s. And even today there is controversy over government settlements with the delayed pay-off for what was theirs said to come in at between one and two-and-a-half cents on the dollar value of their confiscated land.

Anyway, it’s completely overdone. In rugby, and in life. A New Zealand graduation or homecoming, a wedding afters or merely a boozed-up night out, it seems, can barely pass by without a YouTube video emerging of a man leaping about with all the authenticity of a Blackrock College conversation detailing both tillage methodology and livestock vaccination.

What began in a non-official tour to Britain and Ireland in 1888–89 – and made some sense given the name of that group was the New Zealand Native team – is now cringeworthy. For years after that round-the-world trip, their union actually accommodated requests from the apartheid regime in South Africa asking that Maori players not be selected on the team because of their heritage and their race. On another occasion, a handful were given dispensation based on the horrific idea that the South African government would let them be “honorary whites”. It wasn’t until 2010 that the NZRU actually apologised to players left out yet all along, while they were happy to engage in racism, they were also happy to use the Haka. Little wonder that Steve Jackson, a sports sociologist at the University of Otago, said it was an “idealised version” of racial unity.

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 21: In this handout image provided by World Rugby New Zealand players perform the Haka prior to the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group B game between New Zealand and South Africa at International Stadium Yokohama on September 21, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by World Rugby - Handout/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Thus I have a dream.

Sure enough, it’s unlikely Ireland will make it far enough to face a New Zealand side that seem to have been jolted back towards their brilliant and very best by that Australian thrashing in the build-up to this competition. But should they, then how about they do as follows.

As the All Blacks start to perform the Haka, Ireland do not line up and admire. They don’t even look. Instead, just like Campese did, they spend their time doing stretches and engaging in drills and practicing kicks. After all, they didn’t go all the way to Japan to watch the performing arts. Afterwards, when the inevitable fine arrives, the IRFU then proceed to pay it off in bags of pennies delivered to 10 Lower Pembroke Street by a series of wheelbarrows. Then – win or lose – we really would have those oft-described Irish rugby heroes.

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About Ewan MacKenna

One of the country's top sports journalists, and a recipient of Irish Sports Journalist of the Year.