Kap Haka? Research and rugby go up against the All Blacks’ war dance | Bledisloe Cup

Sshould the Haka be scrapped from rugby? Let’s ask a different, less inflammatory question. If the New Zealand Haka and equivalents such as the Fijian Cibi and Tongan Sipi Tau give an unfair advantage to teams that perform it before kick-off, should there be a limit on when and where those teams can do it?

Research carried out this year at the University of Queensland’s School of Human Movement showed that players who performed these war dances achieved elevated heart rates moments before the start of a match. These squats and lunges are the equivalent of a warm-up while the opponent is standing still, often in the cold. Granted, we are talking about a marginal increase, but at the elite level it can be the difference between scoring a try in the opening five minutes or not.

“Honestly, even if it gave them a competitive edge – and I’m not so sure if it does or not – I wouldn’t want to see it,” says former Springbok lock Victor Matfield, who faced the Pacific Islander. war dance before 34 of his 127 Tests. “I loved it, especially when we played the All Blacks. If it gave them a boost it was good because it gave me a boost. A mental boost. I knew I was going to fight and that would get me going. I’d look across the field and my opposite number and take on the challenge against. That’s a great thing about our sport.”

Quick caveat: I agree with Matfield. I love Haka.

I first became aware of this before the 1995 World Cup final when Springbok Kobus Wiese went nose to nose with Jonah Lomu. “The haka comes from a godly world,” New Zealand Rugby’s Maori cultural adviser Luke Crawford said on the All Blacks Podcast. I believe him. This gathering of giants sent a divine chill through my blood, and I still feel it every time I see Haka live. The ringing scream of the leader, the roar of the crew in unison, thunderous knee slaps and muscular arms thrusting out like spears and shields. It takes your breath away.

“I think every fan remembers the first time they saw it,” Matfield adds. “It’s really special. People expect it. Yes, it’s the All Blacks and that means you’re going to watch one of the best teams in the world. But the Haka brings something else that makes the match against the All Blacks unique.

Last weekend the Wallabies responded to the Haka by rallying in a boomerang formation. Photo: Robert Cianflone ​​/ Getty Images

But what if it’s the World Cup final? What if your team loses by one point? Would you rather witness your country’s captain lift the Webb Ellis Cup or start the presentation with your rival’s war dance? Fans in every country cling to decades of bickering over a missed pass or a misplaced shot. If a rugby match is just a collection of flashing moments, then surely what comes before the referee blows the whistle counts? If you don’t believe me, ask All Blacks fans about the mythological figure of waitress Suzie.

“It’s not about the opposition though, it’s about us,” explains former New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick, who was part of the All Blacks team that performed the Haka for the first time on home soil at the 1987 World Cup. “I was. never someone who needed motivation to play for that jersey. I don’t think it’s disrespectful if you face it or whatever you do. It’s about us, our families, our Whakapapa. Of the one who has come before us. We challenge, but it’s more than that. People may not realize how deep it goes.

Last week, Australia took up the challenge with its own culturally significant challenge. When the All Blacks performed the haka, James Slipper’s team assembled in a boomerang formation. The Wallaby captain said his players respected Australia’s Indigenous community but not everyone was on board.

“Rieko Ioane had a lot to say to our boys after the last try, he kissed Folau Fainga’a who disrespected the haka,” Australia’s New Zealand-born coach Dave Rennie said. “We don’t have the luxury of having a haka, so our answer is [to get] in the form of a boomerang and move forward. They have thrown down the challenge and we accept it.

“Is the expectation that we will just stand there, challenge us and do nothing? Just take it? We’re not going to stop it.”

Any talk of reform must take into account the cultural significance and sensitivity of this pre-game ritual. As Crawford said: “It would be so hard to disconnect haka from rugby now, it’s just everywhere.” This does not prevent us from asking questions that challenge the status quo.

Perhaps the solution would be to limit the performance of the Haka by the All Blacks and others only at home. If they really enjoy a little success as a result, why should they be allowed to do it at Twickenham, Ellis Park or Suncorp? Is it fair that the All Blacks are entitled to the final say before the fly-half starts? Maybe when they travel they could perform the Haka before the National Anthem instead?

Matfield dismisses the questions with disdain. “You have to go around and ask rugby fans in South Africa what they know about the Haka and if they want to see it,” he says. “I don’t think they would. And why would they? It’s really one of the great things about our game. Why would anyone want to take that away?”