The national anthem is finished and I slowly approach the middle of the field to witness the greatest spectacle in international rugby. Bound arm in arm with my teammates, I have a huge sense of satisfaction — I have finally made it! Eden Park 19th June 2004, my first international cap.
The mighty All Blacks perform the angriest of Hakas, and the raw emotion increases while they lay their challenge on us. It goes so quickly, but I take in every mind-blowing expression, every fierce eye locking opportunity I can. The crowd roars, and before I know it it’s over! I’m floating on clouds and nothing can bring me down. It’s game time, and I can’t wait.
Playing New Zealand is special: the highest honor anyone can ask for playing international rugby. They’ve earned their impeccable reputation through years of magical performances. They’re up on the pedestal they deserve, having entertained rugby supporters since the game began. They’ve earned their respect and reinforce it every time they step out onto the field, so facing New Zealand gives you the highest sense of fulfillment as a player.
Measuring your performance against the best is the only way to truly see where you stand, and ultimately that’s the reason we play the game. To be the best. Our competitive nature oozes out of our skins every game, but it’s really something else once that black jersey is in front of you.
Deal with it!
Some see the Haka as intimidating; others thrive on it, using it to their advantage to pump themselves up.
It’s strange, but there are unspoken regulations around this ritual. Oppositions are prevented from approaching the Haka, although the All Blacks can do exactly that, inching menacingly forward. It’s a huge double standard and favoritism comes into play. In the 2011 World Cup final, France approached New Zealand during the Haka and were fined for that by the IRB.
Sometimes I think it’s all about the television networks ensuring they have maximum coverage with the best views and not wanting anything to get in the way.
I wonder, if a team formed a huddle and ignored the Haka totally, what would happen? Would there be a monetary fine, or would it be play on?
It’s a little concerning that most teams do form a huddle directly after the Haka. Have they been put off that much that they have to regather their thoughts and go over their focus points one last time? They’re a professional outfit and prepared so carefully during the week. Is one last speech going to have a bearing on their performance? Unlikely! Or is this a way of settling the New Zealand players back down to their level?
Teams have tried all sorts of tactics to neutralize the excitement and atmosphere the Haka brings, but to no avail. So why bother?
Playing superior rugby on the day is the one and only thing that will beat New Zealand, and there’s no way the All Blacks will ever be put off by what a team does after they lay their challenge. Every time they play, our eyes are glued to the TV screens: “Did I miss the Haka?” It’s the highest of highs, truly admired and respected throughout the sporting world.
I was on the losing team that day ten years ago, but I can’t wait to see the Haka again!