Sunday, November 26, 2006

Memo to the Welsh - don't mess with the haka!

I believe in a black jersey. So the All Black season is over for another year, and it's been a pretty good year, all told.

Thirteen tests - the first six against our old foes Australia and South Africa in the Tri-Nations, then tests against Ireland, Argentina, England, France and Wales. We won 12 games, and lost one - to South Africa by a single point. Last year was a similar story - twelve tests, and we lost only one - again to South Africa.

Not bad.

The final game of the season was played early this morning (our time) at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, against that equally fanatical rugby nation, Wales. It was a pretty convincing win - 45-10 to the All Blacks.

Memo to the Welsh: don't mess with the haka, boys, it just makes us mad. And you know where that will lead...

Here's the story:

Last year when we played Wales it was for the celebration of a hundred years of games between us, and they asked if we would mind changing the order of the pre-match programme, so that instead of the haka being performed after both national anthems, and directly before kick-off, it would be performed between the anthems, giving the Welsh a chance of reply with their own national anthem. That's how it was done when the teams first met 100 years ago, and they thought it would be nice to replicate it, for old time's sake. "Just this once" they promised, so we agreed.

At the time the All Blacks management was a bit concerned about the precedent it might set, but they agreed as a favour to the Welsh, on their special day.

About six weeks ago, the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) notified the All Blacks that they were planning to do it that way again, and no amount of negotiation (right up until just before the game) could get them to change their minds. Bad idea, boys! You don't mess with the haka!

From the International Herald Tribune:

"It's a 100-year-old tradition that the haka is done before kickoff," New Zealand coach Graham Henry said. "We agreed to the change last year but we had a guarantee it wouldn't happen again. But they (the WRU) asked us to do the same this year and we said no."

The All Blacks opted to perform the haka in the changing-rooms before the game instead, to the intense disappointment of the crowd. I think it's very sad that the WRU did not have the decency to explain to the crowd why they were being denied that most exciting and spine-chilling ritual which (until today) has always accompanied an appearance by the All Blacks.

From Planet Rugby:
Not happy with accusing New Zealand of being "honest cheats" in the week Wales opted to antagonise their formidable opponents further with a tradition changing request over the Haka. The result being that the Haka was performed in private in front of a solitary television camera, a travesty for the paying public and a grave error from the Welsh management and committee.

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said the team acted to protect the tradition of Haka that is integral to New Zealand culture and the All Blacks' heritage.

"The tradition needs to be honoured properly if we're going to do it," said McCaw.

"If the other team wants to mess around, we'll just do the Haka in the shed. At the end of the day, Haka is about spiritual preparation and we do it for ourselves. Traditionally fans can share the experience too and it's sad that they couldn't see it today," he said.

I'm not sure exactly what the WRU was trying to achieve here. Put us off our game by having 74,500 Welshmen sing their national anthem at us after the haka was over? (Minus the very large contingent of black-clad Kiwi fans, of course). It didn't work last year - we beat the Welsh by 41:3 - so I don't know why they thought it would make a difference this year.

Perhaps they wanted to push the fact that they got us to agree to a change last year - and they wanted to see if they could make that a permanent arrangement. What's the matter, boys? Can't handle the haka just before kick-off?

Or maybe it was to thumb their noses at our traditions and show disrespect (although the WRU claims to have consulted with Maori kaumatua before making the suggestion). The Poms are good at that - they sang all the the way through the haka before we thrashed them 41:20 at Twickenham a few weeks ago. The French show the most respect - awesome silence through the haka and thundering cheers and applause afterwards.

Although I don't know why the WRU tried it on, I'm very clear about the result of their messings about.

They denied almost 75,000 fans the opportunity to experience the haka up close and personal, which I think every rugby fan would agree is an experience NOT to be missed. The All Blacks did the haka anyway, in the privacy of the dressing-room, and gained the spiritual preparation that it provides.

And they also got a little bit angrier, and a little bit more fired up than usual, and that can only mean one thing. You're gonna lose, Wales! Which they did. And Jerry Collins is gonna crunch your ass! Which he did.

I'll give the last word to Planet Rugby:
Villain of the Match: There may have been two yellow cards, albeit for technical infringements, and a few rowdy arguments but without doubt this award goes to the WRU Officials who deprived the crowd of the Haka. The Haka is a tradition the Kiwi's are proud of and crowds the world over yearn to see live. So for the WRU to try and change this tradition was ludicrous and unjustified. Take note WRU, nobody benefited from your actions but instead were deprived of one of rugby's greatest sights.

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