Defiant Wales unmoved by haka
November 23, 2008
Wales and New Zealand eye-ball each other across the half-way line at the Millennium Stadium © Getty Images
Minor victories seem Wales' lot when assessing their rugby encounters with the All Blacks over the last half century.
And they secured another one at the Millennium Stadium last night when defiantly standing their ground after staring down the haka.
The Wales players stood shoulder to shoulder while the All Blacks performed Kapa O Pango before 74,067 raucous fans and then made no attempt to disperse after it was completed -- a bold act which prompted New Zealand to also refuse to budge. An eyeballing confrontation continued for about a minute as South African referee Jonathan Kaplan struggled to get the players to take their positions for kick-off.
The match eventually started two minutes later than scheduled after Kaplan had to manhandle All Blacks from their formation near halfway. Kaplan also had to implore the Welsh to also break ranks, which they did after All Blacks Richie McCaw instructed his players to end the stalemate.
Wales' stubborn response adds another footnote to the tapestry of the haka -- and how teams choose to react to it. One of New Zealand's long-standing rugby rivals secured another pre-match victory when the All Blacks last played Wales in Cardiff two years ago.
Then match organisers decreed the haka would be performed before the national anthems -- in an attempt to dilute the All Blacks traditional challenge. They refused to comply and instead performed the haka in their dressing room before management and players not included in the 22-man squad.
The Wales Rugby Union ruled out invoking a similar policy for this game but the home team was always expected to treat the haka slightly differently. Wales' New Zealand-born coach Warren Gatland joked in the lead-up to the game that his players would perform their own haka -- a tongue-in-cheek comment taken out of context by local media.
Instead his squad decided to stand their ground and make the All Blacks move into their positions first. "It's something we came up with during the week, essentially what we were trying to show is it's our stadium, our fans and we weren't prepared to give up the ground," explained Wales' captain Ryan Jones.
His counterpart McCaw said the Welsh belligerence added to an already electric atmosphere inside the enclosed citadel of the country's national sport. "I didn't know when we were going to get started to be honest," said McCaw after the All Blacks' 29-9 triumph.
"I think it's great, it really showed both teams were ready to play -- there was a great intensity in the way both teams started."
All Blacks blindside flanker Jerome Kaino said McCaw had warned the players that Wales might attempt to do something unique. "We were expecting something. After we do our haka we stand our ground and wait for the opposition to go. Obviously they weren't going to go, neither were we until the ref had to step in there and push the sides away."
Veteran hooker Keven Mealamu said he would cherish the memory of the Welsh reaction. "I thought it was very respectful, just a great way to face a haka and then stand proud. I thought it was awesome."
The haka, and how the opposition choose to accept the challenge, has been a staple topic of conversation and cause for speculation since the All Blacks arrived in Scotland for their opening test on November 8.
That 32-6 win at Murrayfield in Edinburgh was preceded by Australian-born Scottish lock Nathan Hines staring down Ali Williams who deliberately places himself closer to the opposition. Ireland kept their distance a week later before Munster added to the haka's folklore when their New Zealand contingent of Rua Tipoki, Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi and Jeremy Manning pre-empted the All Blacks' Ka Mate in Limerick last Tuesday by performing their own version before a baying capacity crowd at Thomond Park Stadium.
It is now England's turn to debate what, if anything, to do when the teams meet at Twickenham on Saturday.
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