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The Haka is losing its charm

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John Beattie | 16:18 UK time, Friday, 18 June 2010

I used to like the Haka. But it's no longer a mark of respect, nor some ancient challenge; it's become a rather silly one-way exercise in threatening behaviour.

And they really expect teams to just stand and watch?

It was so good when Willie Anderson, the Irish legend, got far too close for comfort when the Irish faced the All Blacks.

I like New Zealanders, some of the best people I have met hail from there.

They put the first (or maybe second) man on top of Mount Everest, one of my heroes was the runner John Walker and they say that if you want a fence built in the UK you get a contractor, but in New Zealand you get a few mates and build it yourselves.

Their rugby is brilliant at times.

But I was watching the Under-20 All Blacks perform their Haka in the lead up to their match with South Africa and it was pathetic.

It started off as the usual Haka, after a somewhat longer than necessary introduction before the Kamate bit, but the last motion was a threatening, and slow, slitting of the throat.New Zealand players perform the Haka before the 2010 IRB Junior World Championship semi-final against South Africa at the El Coloso del Parque Stadium

I wanted to throw things at the TV.

New Zealanders want their Haka to be treated with respect. Do they honestly believe that anyone in the world should respect a team which ends its - until then - tolerated and sometimes respected challenge with a throat-slitting demonstration.

Respect goes both ways. How stupid do the New Zealand rugby authorities believe their opponents to be?

It has really surprised me that they allowed the Under-20's to go with their Haka.

It's such embarrassing nonsense with earnest, gleeful, and plainly naïve young men doing their best to overact as if auditioning for supporting roles as pirates on Captain Hook's ship: Captain Cook would have been embarrassed.

Ok, so they will argue that it is "tradition".

Even supposing that most sporting traditions are barely 100 years old at most, when humankind had populated most ice-free parts of the world some 12,000 years ago, this is not tradition.

It's the evolution of what was a rather lame pre-match ritual that existed in my day and has evolved into a one-way wind up. In the 1980s some All Blacks didn't even know the words.

Rugby is a psychological game: players cool down after the anthems and then have to get themselves up for kick off, and, lo and behold, just before kick off one team gets to gather, shout a lot, slap thighs and threaten the other team.

I don't mind a Haka that is about respect.

But, firstly with the introduction of the new one a few years ago which they then ditched, and now with the Under-20's having attended too many drama classes, it shows no respect.

And respect is a fundamental part of the game, while expecting a team to watch you threaten them smacks of a lack of respect.

Plus, you can't invent tradition; unless I am misunderstanding a fundamental aspect of tourism.

Are New Zealanders really proud of this?


  • Comment number 1.

    Absolutely agree with you John. If it's a 'new' haka, how can it be traditional? I used to enjoy the haka and find it inspirational, now it seems puerile and an abused privilege.

  • Comment number 2.

    You make a fair point, John, but I hope common sense prevails and they are discreetly told to use a traditional form and moderate it, because for me it adds to the excitement and atmosphere of the occasion. Years ago I played aganst a young touring NZ side in a seens tournament ( we were thrashed in the longest 20 mins of my life!!) and their Haka rendition before each of their games was a major crowd pleaser.

  • Comment number 3.

    Completely agree John,

    The Haka was a magical element thet added to the myth or mystique of the All Blacks, however since Tana Umaga chose to politicise and change it to a "hard-core" version, it has become a threat rather than a traditional challenge, would the IRB allow the Scottish Team to line up, shout "Come ahead ya walloper" and charge headfirst into their opponents?

  • Comment number 4.

    Being a kiwi living in I think the Haka has improved immensely when Buck Shelford captained the All Blacks he wanted the players to get the Haka correct if having seen some of the pathetic Hakas before then I am now proud that the Haka is now actually more of a traditional Maori challenge than it was before.

    Remember the Haka is a challenge if your players are intimidated or threatened by it then maybe they should be looking at them selves?

  • Comment number 5.

    Remember this if the All Blacks were not to perform a Haka that would be an insult to their opponents

  • Comment number 6.

    Presumably just as the opposition have no say in the composition or performance of the haka the All Blacks have no right to specify how the opposition react. They can choose to accept the challenge there or wait till the whistle blows.
    Either the eyeballing the Blacks from a couple of feet or carrying on with warm up a la Campese are equally valid responses.
    Standing like prunes and looking on respectfully might not be the most appropriate counter.

  • Comment number 7.

    The throat cutting thing is really out of order. There's some serious in-house reprimanding to be attended to there.

    Wasn't it Phil Anderson who lead a magnificently challenging Irish riposte to the Haka in the late 80s? Possibly early 90s. I remember it well, other than the date!

    I'm generally in favour of a good, traditional Haka. It's a very enjoyable part of the rugby culture. It's a warriors' challenge, isn't it? Perhaps other teams ought to get their thinking caps on and come up with something apt to respond to it with.

    Like Donald Peddie said, standing like prunes and looking on respectfully is just mentally and physically lame. And the Campo route of ignoring it and carrying on with warming up is also inappropriate in my own humble opinion.

  • Comment number 8.

    My late wife wasn't into sport, apart from ice hockey (half-Canadian). She went with me to watch the 1967 All Blacks game, when Colin Meads was sent off - purely to see the Haka.

    She blinked and nearly missed it, it was done so quickly.

    Then the 1972 Blacks, Ian Kirkpatricks lot, only did the Haka once, before losing to the Barbarians and that try.

    Today it's a major production number, about as over the top and as funny as: "Spring Time for Hitler".

    I wonder what would happen if the opposition, having already opted to kick off and having told the match referee: "We're not hanging about after the anthems", simply kicked off while the Blacks were doing their mincing chorus boys act in midfield.

    Might make for a good game, although, I can't help feeling at least a couple of the Northern Hemisphere sides might knock the kick off out on the full!!

  • Comment number 9.

    I've long been of the opinion the time for the haka is over. It's become a pantomime act instead of a traditional challenge and, as soon as there was any decision to change it, no argument for tradition can now be accepted.

  • Comment number 10.

    I agree with you entirely, John! The haka has become a charmless exercise which everyone is obliged to sit through and to 'respect'. Whatever way we react to it, we are told, shows insufficient respect. It's simply not fair than one team should think it has a monopoly on cultural heritage and a right rub everyone else's noses in it. The response, "It's tradition" is no response at all. It's time this nonsense was stopped.

  • Comment number 11.

    I wonder whether Matt Vallance would be so quick to call it a "mincing chorus boys' act" if he had to go out there and fave them!! Particularly in thegood old days when it was "proper" rugby with rucking and without endless cameras, and touch judges looking out for foul play on the blind side! Yes the new version is over the top, but to ban it is an admission that our boys are not man enough to not be intimidated by it.

    The response to it is to eyeball them with absolutely no expression whilst they are doing it & then smash them with sme massive (legal) hits as soon asthe whistle blows to let them know youare nt ntimidated and mean business!

  • Comment number 12.

    Sorry about the "typos" above - I really must remember to proof read before I post!

  • Comment number 13.

    I feel they are inventing tradition. The haka has become a joke and instead of getting my respect it actually gets me angry now. It lasts longer and longer with more added dramatics. How long do they need? Maybe they want to get the opposition some comfy chairs, a nice Tea while they sit back and enjoy the show!!!!

  • Comment number 14.

    The haka is a wonderful tradition but ka mate surely can't be that intimidating - their singing about hiding in a pit covered up by your granny's skirt (or that of some female relative at least).

    The tradition should be respected but that comes from both sides - and the use of kapa o pango and its nasty throat slitting move should not be used (banned if NZRU won't show self-moderation).

    But respecting the tradition does not mean the opposition should meekly stand by watching on in awe of a bit of thigh-slapping and tongue wiggling. The haka is a challenge – it deserves a response, it deserves contempt, it deserves even to be ignored.

  • Comment number 15.

    I have to agree with this. The purpose of the haka was to intimidate, and it now seems that the only acceptable response to it on the rugby field is to be appropriately cowed by it. It's essentially the best rugby team in the world insisting on being allowed a psychological edge on every team they play.

    Best response I have ever seen was John Jeffrey in the '91 RWC 3rd place playoff. He stood there and laughed in their faces.

  • Comment number 16.

    Perhaps Scotland should hark back to Gavin Hastings side, when asked if Scotland would provide a typically Scottish response to the Haka, Hastings replied "You mean run over and headbutt them?".

  • Comment number 17.

    Enjoying the last 2 posts from docrob and imager614. That was brilliant when John Jeffrey stood smiling at them! I also liked it when Gavin Hastings (was it for the Lions or Scotland?) fronted right up to them- eyeball to eyeball! Not being disrespectful just a big man accepting the challenge! JJ was brilliant though! You HAVE to be at least 1 mile away now so no one is offended- if you are going to do an aggressive war dance then bring on the responses I say!

  • Comment number 18.

    Sorry changing the subject well done England on a good result and brilliant Scotland! What a result 2-0 great effort! Not pretty but who cares? What a gutsy, important result! Could things finally be on the up? Lets hope so

  • Comment number 19.

    Haka is bit tired now but I still like to see it. The new version is rubbish compared to old. Best response was the Welsh couple of years ago, refusing to move, that really got the atmosphere firing, and you could tell it was going to be a bruising encounter.

  • Comment number 20.

    I agree. I feel the Haka can bring a bit of spectacle to the game and enjoyment for the crowd but at the end of the day if it's showing disrespect to the players then something should be said or done about it.

    I know aspects of it are traditional and I firmly believe that should be honoured but as you say how can something which has been changed quite a bit over the last few years still be considered traditional? Is it because it's the All Blacks that perform it that most people are worried about doing anything that might upset them? If you ask most rugby fans which team asides from their own obviously, the would wish to watch then New Zealand is usually the answer (it is for me anyway) perhaps the powers that be know this and don't want to do anything to annoy them.

    At the end of the day would the same respect and leniency be shown if it was Scotland, Wales, Ireland etc that performed something like this?

    Also just a quick congratulations to the Scotland squad. Great results and some fantastic individual performances, as well as collectively. Man of the series for me...Dan Parks (surprise surprise!) but Rory Lawson close behind. Special shout out to Moray Lowe too. Euan Murray will have his work cut out getting back in the team...

  • Comment number 21.

    Tradition, I don't think so. Pantomime, yes. Time to stop it, yes.

    A rugby all black "tradition" started by white middle class rugby players.

    We live in the 21st Century; it's time to grow up.

  • Comment number 22.

    I've absolutely no intention of growing up, thankyou - grown ups and being grown up is extremely boring. (Except at work , of course!!)
    I'll bet you'd hear a considerable public outcry from fans all round the rugby world if the Haka was banned. If its got out of hand - moderate it. Say what you like, but its now part of rugby folklore.

  • Comment number 23.

    Pantomime! The haka and the Islander equivalent have been apart of our culture a lot longer than an anthem. The Maori, Samoans, Tongans, Fijians all perform TRADITIONAL challenges before a game. It is in essense our anthem to the opposition.

    Why should we listen to you, John Beattie, just because you don't like it. I believe it's now the norm for the Flower of Scotland to be sung before games, it has not always been the case. Should you stop as it fills the Scots with unbridled passion.

    The haka and it's islander equivalent is also unbridled passion. Play soccer if you can't handle it.

  • Comment number 24.

    UncleBulleye, how long has the throat slitting Haka been part of your tradition? A couple of years?

    Wind your neck in, no one has a problem with a traditional Haka, or come to think of it any of the Islanders traditional challenges, it's only NZ's recent abuse of the privelege afforded them that has created this debate.

    Go back to the traditional NZ Haka and it's a great spectacle for all rugby fans, keep the throat slitting gestures and you deserve no respect. It's as simple as that.

  • Comment number 25.

    Traditional haka, is NOT the past mockery performed by the predominately white All Blacks. It is the one my ancestors performed, my grandfather and relations performed in the desert/Europe before fighting Germans, it is the one performed by Rua Tipoki on behalf of Munster against the ABs and to be performed by the Maori tonight against the english.

    It's a challenge to oneself and the opposition.

    Wind my neck in; I can tell some of you have never faced a haka and or played a team full of maori or islanders because of the pretension and self rigtheous indignation that normally accompanies those of that ilk.

  • Comment number 26.

    That's some nice selective reading UncleBulleye. Who said anything about the traditional haka being the rubbish morris dancing sort that the All Blacks did decades ago? Not me.

    The traditional haka, in my eyes is the one that the All Blacks performed prior to the Kapa O Pango. You've only performed that for 4 or 5 years. How is that traditional in any sense of the word?

    Talk about self righteous and pretension, you go on as if watching a traditional dance and playing a game of rugby is the most fearsome thing that a man can face. You've obviously led a more sheltered life than the relations you talk about and no doubt many users of this forum. The wind your neck in still applies.

  • Comment number 27.

    That's funny, my sheltered upbringing has ill prepared me for such a rebuke. Unlike, as you say, the more hardened posters on this forum, who actually, from their posts, do find a traditional dance before a game of rugby quite upsetting. And if I may, be selective in my reading, I quote "puerile", "abused", "pantomime". Those don't sound like the courageous words of those less sheltered.

    Sheltered, I am. But, you're being disingenuous, as a rugby player there's very little more fearsome than rampant polynesians. There are a number of articles/quotes from premier rugby players through out the world's competitions that affirm that fact.

    Hang on you might not be a rugby player; then that explains things.

  • Comment number 28.

    UncleBulleye, I see that you yet again choose not to address the key point of the article and many posts. That being that as every nation respects NZ's tradition of performing a Haka, NZ shouldn't disrespect their opponents by performing throat slitting gestures. It's a simple point and I can't see how anyone could disagree with it, perhaps that's why you continually choose not to address it.

    I don't find the throat slitting Haka 'upsetting', I'm not such a sensitive soul, I find it disrespectful to the opponents. Rugby is a sport founded on mutual respect and as such, Kapa O Pango has no place in it.

    I still don't agree with you about fearing polynesian players, not being the biggest bloke in the world, I've plenty experience of being smashed during a game by blokes about twice my size, both European and Polynesian. I didn't fear any of them, you get smashed, you get up, you get on with the game and life goes on.

    In answering your rather petty last dig, this was during a very lacklustre and unimpressive career playing age group rugby at Kirkcaldy and then Uni rugby at Dundee before retiring early because of all too frequent breaks to my ankle.

  • Comment number 29.

    Methilman, you are right. The gesture is an old action best consigned to history and the likes of the 28th Maori Battalion.

    In the gladitorial arena that is international sport, that action is entirely inappropriate. I see the All Blacks have now changed and stopped using that action/gesture in Te Kapa o Pango; to be, as you duly noted, respectful. The actions of Te Kapa o Pango have been taken from old haka, haka that were done before actual battle, I understand the inclusion of the throat gesture was thought a good idea at the time. Now, it is a regrettable inclusion for which we're sorry and should stop using.

    I've now seen the haka performed by the U20 that John Beattie speaks of. Charlie Ngatai, the leader, is from home, I know him, his grandfather, father, mother, uncles. He should know better, hopefully we can use the excuse of youth and passion, and with age comes greater control, respect and a realisation of the consequences. As I have said before, the haka is a challenge not only to the opposition but also to oneself; he needs more work.

    Strangely enough, from our small hometown where all the maori know each other (tribal)and are easily approached, there are excellant examples for him to follow, learn from, and emulate, Hosea Gear and Rua Tipoki. As well as Derek Lardelli, the composer of Te Kapa o Pango.

    As a part time coach who tries to impart to his young charges respect to others, ref, other team etc, I've been somewhat remiss with my own actions and words.

    I apologise for the snide digs, I'm a rugby player and I've been run over, I'm still being run over to this day, and most probably there will be more run overs of me on Saturday.

    For our haka to be called a pantomime by another poster made the blood boil. But the world is good and a better place as we beat the english, which is always a good thing and should make everyone happy. And it was one of the best games of rugby I've seen in a long time.

  • Comment number 30.

    wasn't the tradition of singing pre match anthems started after the welsh response of singing hen wlad fy nhadau to the haka 100 years ago.

    I maybe wrong, but if i'm not the haka is more traditional to rugby than the anthems

  • Comment number 31.

    First off to state my bias I'm a kiwi.

    The throat slitting gesture has been changed to one that reflects what they are actually saying - pulling the breath of life into the body. I totally agree with the opinion that the throat slitting action is offensive and not appropriate for the game.

    I think that the changing of the haka is a good thing. Why? Because the new version is actually relevant to the situation - i.e. it's actually about rugby and the challenge to come (there's a bit of an overview here for anyone who cares:

    As a player who has been on both sides of a haka I can say that it is a great adrenaline booster for both teams. I doubt any top level players would actually feel intimidated by it, and I think this is evidenced by the fact that in a lot of the games against the European sides the European sides actually start the game really well (Wales definitely had us on the ropes for the first 10 - 15 minutes of the 1st test). IMHO if European teams are mentally disadvantaged by any particular thing it's not the haka - it's the historical stats that add a bit of doubt in the back of the mind. Just look at the ABs and that little bugbear that is their World Cup history :-P.

    Finally, I think if I was a non-kiwi that was good enough to play for my country against the ABs then I would be pretty gutted if I didn't have the opportunity to stare down the haka and feel the adrenaline rush and then let it all out after the kick off. Would be interesting to know what the players who have faced it have to say - after all that would be a lot more relevant that what commentators and us spectators have to say.

  • Comment number 32.

    I'm a Kiwi who has been following rugby for more than fifty years. Over that time there have been calls to flag away the Haka on the average about every three weeks. It's still there, matey, and there's nothing more emotional when you are in some far-off land than to witness a haka whether it be our All Blacks on TV or some other gathering of New Zealanders.

  • Comment number 33.

    Absolutely we kiwis are proud of the HAKA. I've travelled all over the world performing kapahaka (Maori performing arts) what you are witnessing now is an All Black team who understands the meaning and now know how to perform it properly not like years before when all they wanted to do was hurry up and jump to get it over with. Kia Ora unclebulleye

  • Comment number 34.

    The haka is a load of guff designed purely to intimidate the opposition, you are not meant to infringe upon them, you must respect them, there is no chance of rebuttal (as they say in debate), get it in before the game starts.
    TOTAL INTIMIDATION which today's game should do without.
    An invitation to do battle, ended by a throat cutting gesture where is the sportsmanship in that?
    The Blecks will beat most teams whenever they so wish, why permit them to threaten other teams without the others right to reply?

  • Comment number 35.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 36.

    I have the utmost respect for all New Zealand sportsmen and women, having had the privilege to compete in their beautiful country and observed the high level of sportsmanship of their sportsmen and women for over 40 years. However, for some time I have been concerned that the "haka" confers an unfair advantage over those rugby teams which do not have the opportunity to do their'"thing," by way of an appropriate response. Many rugby playing countries have traditional dances which could be presented as part of pre-game activities, so why do we give the All Blacks a privilege which is denied to players from other countries.

    Until there is equal time given to the other team to put on a performance,
    I feel strongly that we should omit the haka and get on with the game that
    we came to see.

    Than you

  • Comment number 37.

    If the haka is traditional it should go the same way as the French throwing cockerels onto the pitch. If its about psychological advantage then at the very least it should be performed before the national anthems.

    Or how about theenglish responding with half an hour of Morris Dancing or the Scots with bagpipes and sword dancing.

    I seem to remember a while back that the NZ team performed the haka in the dressing room at the millenium stadium as a protest because the Welsh wouldn't let them perform it after the anthems.

    As usual it seems to be about what the all blacks want, as do a lot of the ERV's of the past few years.

  • Comment number 38.

    Looking back at old videos of New Zealand performing the Haka, you can see the difference in attitude towards it. Untill Anderson challenged it, and got right into the Kiwi line up, the players would stand that in silence and watch the dance in fear. Nowadays its treating as a sort of joke. Disfunctionalceramics touched on the game in 2005, I think it was, when the Haka was performed in the changing room. Its no longer a threat, the Welsh team seem to be good at stoking the New Zealand fire. The game in Cardiff in 2008 where Wales stood their ground and were seen to be watching the haka whilst not paying full attention.

    This shows that the threat from New Zealand isn't as great as it was in the early days of pro rugby. The Kiwi domination of the world rankings is coming to an end.

  • Comment number 39.

    I always laugh when I see the pasty white obviously non-indiginous players, such as Mccaw, Williams, Carter doign the Haka. Maybe it should be just the Maoris that do it.

  • Comment number 40.

    Keep the Haka.
    It's more entertaining than the Rugby that follows...

  • Comment number 41.

    The Haka will be entertaining than the Rugby if your a paranoid league fan wondering why Rugby is more popular on this planet than league.

  • Comment number 42.

    #31 completely agree with you. I travelled to NZ when I was younger and was lucky enough to train with a team. The maori lads in the team performed a haka for their visitor and I must say that the adrenaline was amazing. There may be isssues about when it is performed etc but some of the responses to it such as the Welsh refusing to walk away, the Irish facing up, they add to the adrenaline rather than detract from it. Long may it continue!

  • Comment number 43.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 44.

    Ngati Toa and Te Rauparaha who composed the original Ka Mate (Haka) has given us full permission to break the World record Ka Mate (Haka) on August 6th and all donations raised will go towards the New Zealand Earthquake appeal. So we are trying to get the old Haka back.


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