He might not be happy about the scoreline but a Māori researcher has applauded the English response to the All Blacks’ haka.
Prior to England’s 19-7 Rugby World Cup semifinal win over the All Blacks on Saturday night the team already made headlines for their radical response to haka.
England lined up in front of the traditional challenge in V formation and had to be told to retreat by officials when they moved too close to the All Blacks.
And it has since been revealed England could be fined due to breaching a “cultural ritual protocol”, whereby opponents are not to cross the halfway line.
Massey University physical education lecturer Jeremy Hapeta (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Huia and Ngāti Pareraukawa), who has carried out research into haka use in sport, said while it could have broken rugby laws, the English response was not disrespectful to Māori.
“For whatever reason, they keep them far apart these days, but certainly from a Māori perspective I don’t think many across the motu will be offended.
“Haka are about laying down a challenge, and they require some sort of response. I think this was a great way for the English to accept the challenge, it showed they did not want to stand there and be passive, but wanted to channel the All Blacks’ energy.”
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English player Mako Vunipola admitted after the game that “we knew it would rile them up” of the All Blacks, while the captain, Owen Farrell, who could be seen smirking during the haka, said: “We wanted not to just stand there and let them come at us.”
Hapeta recalled the game in 1997 when former All Blacks hooker Norm Hewitt was leading the haka and his opposite Richard Cockerill came close enough to hongi.
Hewitt has since said he never took offence at the gesture, but that incident – which very nearly led to blows – led to rugby officials ensuring the players were kept apart during haka.
In 1989 Ireland captain Willie Anderson also led his team right up to the faces of the All Blacks team during the pre-match haka.
Of the incident, former All Black – and one of the men credited with reviving the All Blacks haka – Buck Shelford said: “If they want to come up let them come up – it’s fine as long as no one touches anybody … save that for the game.”
Hapeta said over the years many teams have sought to develop a response to the haka.
In the 2011 Rugby World Cup final the French formed an arrow, and more recently in the quarter-final Irish fans sang traditional songs.
The All Blacks loss on the weekend could disprove the long-held theory the haka gave them a competitive edge, and could lead to more teams adopting their own response, Hapeta said.
Prior to this year’s World Cup Hapeta called for more protection from “disrespectful” commercial use of haka.
One of the worst instances came in the Rugby World Cup 2015, when British clothing company Jacomo ran a “Hakarena” campaign, which mashed together the Macarena song with Ka Mate lyrics and gestures, and involved English rugby players.