Former England players James Haskell and Mike Tindall have reignited the debate about the All Blacks haka on the eve of the World Cup semifinal.
Speaking on Joe.co.uk’s House of Rugby, Haskell, Tindall and former Springboks captain John Smit discussed the All Blacks ahead of their semifinal clash against England in Yokohama.
Haskell, a former England flanker turned MMA fighter, said countries are too obsessed with the All Blacks, adding that the haka is only intimidating if you let it be.
“The biggest thing a lot of countries do is they become obsessed with them,” said Haskell. “Fans talk all about the haka. All they talk about is ‘it must be intimidating to face the haka’. It’s actually not … when 15 men are dancing in front of you, you just want to go beat them up.”
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The former Highlanders loose forward previously gave advice to the current England side about how to face the haka in similar terms in a column for the Daily Mail.
“I genuinely think the biggest mistake you can make is talking about New Zealand, watching New Zealand, overthinking it,” he said, talking about New Zealand. “Just worry about yourself and meet fire with fire. That’s my piece of advice.”
Tindall wasn’t buying his countryman’s talk, saying Haskell wasn’t intimidated by the haka only because he didn’t face All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu.
“He definitely didn’t face the haka when Jonah was doing it,” said Tindall in reply to Haskell. “I guarantee you I was not looking at Jonah when he was doing the haka. I was like ‘where’s Andrew Mehrtens’. Andrew Mehrtens trying to do the f***ing haka is a joke. I’m watching you pal.”
However, for Smit, who faced the All Blacks several times in his career as Springboks skipper, facing the haka was a “privilege”.
“For me the haka and for South Africans it’s a privilege,” Smit said. “When you’re playing against the All Blacks you know you’ve sort of got to the pinnacle of what your career is – playing for your country and facing the Kiwis. And the other thing about the haka is I think it’s misinterpreted.
“The haka is all about them paying respect to their culture and their diversity and that they want to bring people together. And then laying down a challenge and then it’s up to us to bring that to them.
“When we’re in that position, we’ve got the privilege of playing against the greatest team that we love playing against. And they’ve thrown down not a challenge but they’ve brought up their ancestors and they’ve brought up all their traditions and what the haka stands for.”
Smit said teams can get as much motivation out of the haka as the All Blacks, adding that the only countries who complain about the haka are the ones that can’t beat New Zealand.
“I speak on behalf of South Africa, but we get as much motivation out of participating in the haka as they do. And I think that’s what it really is about. To be fair, if I had to be completely honest, no one ever talks about the haka of Tonga and Fiji. Any countries who moan about the haka are the countries who can’t beat the All Blacks.”
England fans are expected to attempt to drown out the All Blacks haka in tonight’s clash by singing through the traditional challenge, but midfielder Manu Tuilagi is looking forward to receiving the haka with what he feels is due respect.
“It’s an honour to stand there in front of the haka and accept the challenge,” he said in Tokyo earlier this week. “You respect it. I grew up watching it on TV and to finally stand in front of it is amazing.”
The All Blacks face England in Yokohama tonight at 9pm.