Hape relishing role reversal
November 3, 2010
England's Shontayne Hape will be on the receiving end of the haka at Twickenham this weekend © Getty Images
England's New Zealand-born centre Shontayne Hape will find himself in thick of the haka at Twickenham on Saturday - but for the first time in his career he will be on the receiving end.
Hape performed the haka before each of his 14 Test appearances for New Zealand's rugby league team but will be on the receiving end of the Maori-based ritual this weekend after he retained his place in Martin Johnson's side.
The 29-year-old was born in Auckland of Maori descent but all that heritage will be forgotten on Saturday. In 2007, Hape switched codes and signed for Bath and two years later he switched nationalities after qualifying for England on residency grounds. Hape made his Test debut in England's drawn summer series with Australia and he is relishing the opportunity to tackle the All Blacks.
"I am proud of where I come from but ultimately life leads everyone in different directions and now I am representing England," said Hape. "I got the chance to pull on the jersey in the summer against Australia and now I have a chance to do it at home in front of a packed-out Twickenham.
"This is an opportunity I am relishing. To be give the opportunity to play against my country of birth, who are the number one team at the moment, there is no better challenge. The haka is something I have been thinking of. It is a tradition and the culture back home. I have done it before - but if I give any advice to my team-mates it will be to stand tall, stare them back in the eyes and let them know we will accept the challenge. When kick-off comes it will be game on."
England will stare down the haka but will be wary of over-stepping the mark in their response in fear of feeling the wrath of the All Blacks and the International Rugby Board. England hooker Richard Cockerill and New Zealand counterpart Norm Hewitt squared up in 1997 and Hape recalled another episode in 1989, when Ireland's Willy Anderson marched into the haka to finish toe-to-toe with the All Blacks.
"When Ireland walked forward against Buck Shelford's team it just spurred the All Blacks on a bit more. It's like poking the bear," said Hape. "I know the cameras will be on me but I am not going to do anything stupid or jump out and start doing the haka back. It is a challenge we will accept as a team. It will be a special moment. There will be 80,000 people sharing it with me."
Hape played rugby union at school but league for the Te Atatu Roosters, where his father coached, and it was the Kiwis rather than the All Blacks who he always dreamed of representing. Now living in Bath with his wife and two children, who were both born in England, Hape has all his Kiwi shirts at home and they sit proudly alongside his red rose jerseys.
"I grew up playing rugby league in New Zealand and I wanted to play for the Kiwis. I realised my dream and three years ago I realised I wanted to give rugby a crack," said Hape. "When I signed for Bath it was obviously a goal of mine to play at the highest level I possibly could.
"I have got all my jerseys - my first Kiwi Test jersey and my first England jersey. I will be keeping this jersey from Saturday too. They are all very special and proud moments in my life. They will be framed and on the wall."
Hape played alongside All Blacks squad member Sonny Bill Williams for the Kiwis - "he is an excitement machine", he said - but it is his partnership with Mike Tindall that will be key on Saturday.
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