Wales apparently continued the PsyOps last Saturday (to little avail) when they made the All Blacks perform the Haika between the anthems rather than after both have been played. This, according to Tana Umaga the New Zealand captain, was disrespectful to Maori tradition. This from the guy who creamed Brian O’Driscoll out of the game of rugby within 90 seconds of the first Haka of the Lions tour in the summer.
This is not the first time that New Zealand have moaned. During the summer, Brian O’Driscoll, the Lions captain, also got it wrong, apparently. The Irishman had consulted a Maori elder as to the appropriate protocol in accepting the Maori challenge. O’Driscoll followed the elder’s instructions but was accused afterwards of “insulting” the All Blacks’ haka. New Zealand, I fancy, protest too much. If the haka and its correctness arouses so much sensitivity and acrimony, perhaps it is time, sadly, to disregard it altogether. If New Zealand players seek respect for its performance, they must recognise that to be allowed to perform the haka is a privilege bestowed and conversely, I assume, it can be taken away.
No one in rugby wants that. But:
While the haka may once have been appreciated as a celebration of national identity and representing a unique heritage, in recent years it has been transformed into psychological sabre-rattling, which the All Blacks clearly think is their right to perform for their advantage as they think fit. It was once played facing the crowd in a line; now they defiantly face the players. They should consider that this is a privilege accorded only to them and the other Pacific islanders.
O’Driscoll in his recent book complained that the New Zealanders take rugby way too seriously. There was dark underlay to the atmosphere off the park during the last tour, which, given his warm and pleasant experiences of touring there on previous occasions, took him by surprise. Maybe it was some perceived slight over the Haka incident. Or maybe it was stifled embarassment at that unpunished (and certainly) highly illegal and potentially life threatening tackle.
Ireland play the All Blacks tomorrow in Landsdowne Road. For them, the O’Driscoll incident should be put to the back of the player’s minds and, instead they must concentrate on competiting with one of the world’s most talented teams. An upset seems unlikely (we’ve never beaten them). Our own talented squad last season was full of promise, but offered little in the way of delivery. Tomorrow could offer them a means of redeeming themselves by testing the New Zealanders closely.
Maybe (as one friend suggested) they should simply keep their track suits on during the ceremony and take them off afterwards – to let the Kiwi blood cool a little. But regardless of the state of mind of the Kiwis, when the whistle blows the Irish will need to find that extra yard of pace that ultimately left O’Driscoll vulnerable to one of the modern games most disgraceful episodes.
Revenge is a dish best served cold.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty