The British and Irish Lions may be able to perform the Maori war dance the haka themselves by the end of the tour as it has been announced that they will face the challenge from three Super Rugby sides as well as the All Black in their three-Test series as well as in the New Zealand Maori game.
So, how will they respond?
The Blues, Chiefs and Crusaders sides will perform their own versions of the Maori challenge, while the Highlanders and Hurricanes opted to bypass the tradition.
The haka has long been a source of controversy for rugby fans in the northern hemisphere, with accusations that it depicts violence, is unsporting and jaded. One of the main contentions is that the northern sides do not have an opportunity to respond, beyond English fans bellowing ‘Sweet Chariot’ at Twickenham.
At the World Cup in 2015, Matt Dawson generously tried to provide the All Blacks with a modern version of the haka, but unfortunately his talent did not match his aspiration and his ‘hakarena’ was widely described as cringe-inducing. So, are there other options for the Lions?
Perhaps the Lions could liven things up for themselves by responding to the hakas as their national member teams have memorably done before previous All Blacks games.
So while the ‘Hakarena’ may not, must not be brought back, I’m sure rugby fans would like another helping of the famous Welsh two-minute silent stare-off challenge in 2008.
Just as northern fans love to complain about the supposed unfair psychological advantage the haka provides, Kiwi fans get equally hot under the collar by the various responses attempted down through the years. During the last Lions tour in 2005, Brian O’Driscoll’s attempt to ruffle feathers by picking up a blade of grass, symbolising the picking up of the traditional white feather, did not go down well with fans or the All Blacks, and Irishman felt the might of the rage a minute and a half into the game when he was the victim of an infamous spear tackle, which ended his tour.
Another response which would definitely provoke the ire of kiwi fans would be to fight the haka with a haka as the three kiwis led by former All Black Doug Howlett did in the Munster team before facing the All Blacks in 2008. Given that there are two New Zealand-born players, Ben Te’o and Jared Payne, in the 2017 side, this may well be an effective surprise tactic.
The fact that Taulupe Faletau (Tonga) and Billy and Mako Vunipola (Samoa) were also born in haka-performing Pacific Island nations, a plethora of performance options open up as well as the opportunity to infuriate kiwi armchair warriors about the hot button issue of international player ‘recruitment’.
What will the Lions do? Innovation? Tradition? The haka and its response, whether you find it spine-tingling or yawn-inducing, is a special part of rugby tradition and theatre.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena
On the Oval Office rugby podcast this week, we hear from Gordon D’Arcy and Nick Evans, and talk PRO12, Premiership and Lions midfield.
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