England’s pre-match statement worked a treat.
England’s pre-match statement worked a treat.

Haka storm sparks ‘bullying’ claim

NEW Zealand rugby's most famous critic has called for the All Blacks to stop performing the haka before Test matches, calling it "bogus" and a "means of rank bullying on and off the field".

Stephen Jones, a Welsh columnist who writes for The Times, took aim at New Zealand's pre-match ritual, suggesting it's performed to satisfy sponsors and television and felt it was time the rugby world moved on.

"The haka has long been partly bonkers," Jones wrote in his column. "It is now interminable; it takes up ages with the other team freezing. It is now a means of rank bullying on and off the field, and has become a posing strut rather than a tribute to the Maori heritage in New Zealand."

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The haka has dominated media discussions during the World Cup, culminating in England's V-shaped formation response ahead of last weekend's 19-7 semi-final win over the Kiwis.

Jones highlighted World Rugby's seemingly hypocritical decision to fine England for crossing the halfway line, while at the same time expressing admiration for the gesture on its website.

"The idea is clear. The All Blacks want to make a ringing pre-match statement; they want it all to be their way just as teams would occasionally delay their entry onto the field to make the away team sweat a little," Jones wrote.

The All Blacks perform the haka before taking on the Irish. Photo by Behrouz Mehri/AFP.
The All Blacks perform the haka before taking on the Irish. Photo by Behrouz Mehri/AFP.

"The haka is as much part of the pre-match bullying ritual as any inter-coach war of words.

"And New Zealand will always find a way to be affronted by the reaction of opponents. Should the opposition simply trot away to near their own line, the All Blacks would chase them to perform it under their noses. The opposition must behave exactly as New Zealand want them to: Advance, retreat, smile, scowl. All wrong, sorry."

Jones added: "These days, I grant you that kids and those easily pleased still look forward to the haka almost as eagerly as they do the match itself.

"When they all grow up, they will realise that what the haka conveys these days is utterly bogus."

World Rugby handed England a four-figure fine after several players - England prop Joe Marler the most prominent - pushed well beyond halfway as they split into a V-shaped formation to oppose the haka prior to their semi-final victory over the All Blacks in Yokohama last week.

"I thought it was awesome, that's what the haka is about, it's a challenge," said All Black Dane Coles.

"They walked forward. I know all the boys were pumped for it we were looking around like, 'Let's go'."

Coles also said it was unfortunate not everyone understands the cultural significance of the haka.

"It's every year something seems to be said," Coles said of the criticism around the haka. "It's part of who we are as New Zealanders, it's an identity thing.

"When people pay us out and say we shouldn't be doing it they don't understand the history of the haka, the history of the All Blacks and the history of New Zealand.

"We love doing it and I wish people would understand that. Even people at home give us stick about the haka. We can't control what people think and people say but it ain't going anywhere.

"If you don't like it, don't watch it. It means a helluva lot to the All Blacks team."