All Black Haka’s benefits called into question

All Black Haka

While the All Black Haka is one of Rugby’s most famous rituals and is often
accused of intimidate opposing sides it’s benefits to the All Blacks themselves
is being questioned.

The Haka is a traditional war dance once performed by the indigenous Maori
before battle and was composed by Ngati Toa Chieftain Te Rauparaha around 1820.

Most younger Rugby fans take the Haka for granted when watching the All Blacks
as they perform it before every test and for some it has become the highlight
of the match.

However it wasn’t always this way as traditionally the Haka was only performed
outside of New Zealand until 1987 when the All Blacks hosted the first Rugby
World Cup.

All Blacks Wayne “Buck” Shelford and Hika Reid were instrumental
in introducing Ka Mate to matches in New Zealand from 1987, and ensuring that
it was performed with a precision and intensity that had on occasion been lacking
in earlier years.

Since then the All Blacks perform one of two Haka’s before every Test. The
more traditional “Ka Mate” is done more often than not and the new
and more special “Kapa O Pango” is reserved for more special occasions.

The All Blacks now give the Haka special attention in training and is an important
part of building spirit in the team.

The Rugby World Champions have slowly grown a reputation for being slow starters
from the kick off which has led to suggestions they are emotionally drained
from performing the haka.

Lock Brodie Retallick’s dropping of the kick-off when the All Blacks lost the
Rugby Championship decider to Australia recently typified the bumbling start
that has become synonymous with the All Blacks.

Coach Steve Hansen had previously questioned whether “we are over-aroused
or under-aroused,” as he sought ways to keep the All Blacks fired up from
the time they left the dressing room until the opening whistle.

In theory the intense emotion channelled into the haka should have a powerful
influence on the All Blacks and give them an edge as their opponents wait patiently
for the theatrics to end.

But when they get outplayed in the opening quarter the question is raised whether
the haka had removed them from the game strategies they focussed on minutes
earlier.

Of their past 20 Tests, the All Blacks were behind on the board in 11 of them
before a second half revival to win 17.

Scrum-half TJ Perenara admits the adrenalin from the haka often causes him
problems in the early stages of a game.

“I was making mistakes. Trying to do too much. Trying to make too many
tackles, and in my position, you don’t make a lot of tackles.”

On the other side of the half-way line, not everyone is intimidated.

Martin Bayfield recalls from his days with England and the British and Irish
Lions that he found the haka inspirational.

“I didn’t find the haka intimidating at all. In fact I found it motivational,”
the former international lock said.

“You need something to inspire – the haka does exactly that,” he
added, commenting he was similarly lifted by the Welsh singing “Land of
my Fathers” before a Test and the French singing “La Marseillaise”.

There is no suggestion of the All Blacks doing away with the haka, which Richard
Light, the head of the School of Sport at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury,
describes as a “spectacular ritual that has a powerful influence on the
team performing it.”

While former All Black, Maori All Black and New Zealand Sevens player Dallas
Seymour, now a consultant on Maori culture, does not buy into the theory the
haka has an adverse effect he says players must learn how to use it.

“It can be a real advantage for us. I found it got my head and my heart
in the right place. A lot of it comes from learning about the culture, learning
how to use it in that environment before going into battle,” he said.

“If guys don’t know how to use it… it could affect their performance
a couple of percent for a while.”

“Regardless of what the opposition or anyone else thinks it’s us
versus them and may the best team win with whatever tools are at their disposal.
We don’t need to apologise at all for that.”

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