Opinion: The All Blacks' haka doesn't create 'unfair advantages' and calling it 'overdone' is insulting

It was always going to happen, wasn’t it?

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Staff sent the team on their way with a spirtual performance and their best wishe. Source: Supplied

The Rugby World Cup rolls around, the All Blacks start off with a win that gets everyone talking but the only thing critics in the north want to discuss is the “unfair advantage” that is the haka.

Along with the supposed psychological advantage the defending champions get from the haka, Irish writer Ewan MacKenna penned recently he also claims it gives the All Blacks “a small physical edge as others are forced to stand still and go briefly cold”.


If we’re going to scrape the bottom of the barrel for lame excuses allow me to fill up a cup in response by saying surely the haka is actually a disadvantage to the All Blacks as they’re exerting valuable energy “briefly” before a Test?

If teams are getting cold from standing still for 90 seconds then World Rugby needs to come down hard on national anthems too.

On a more serious note, wouldn’t it mean the likes of the ‘Ikale Tahi, Manu Samoa, and the Flying Fijians also get psychological and physical advantages from performing the sipi tau, siva tau or cibi, respectively? Yet, for some reason, there’s no mention of them or their challenges at all in MacKenna’s column.

Then again, that may just be because they never travel to the Pacific to play those teams so they may not even know about them but that’s an entirely different kettle of fish to be left for another day.

And the psychological advantage that the All Blacks apparently get can be just as much an issue for them as well.

On Saturday night, the All Blacks performed a dual-led rendition of Kapa o Pango to challenge the Springboks but both captain Kieran Read and starting halfback Aaron Smith said after the match it actually overexcited them.

“We were pretty skittery and a bit too pumped up,” Smith told 1 NEWS after the game.

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Aaron Smith said the team only found out about Read and TJ Perenara's shared role on game day. Source: 1 NEWS

That was clear to see in the 23-13 win where the All Blacks were under pressure for the first quarter of the game and were making uncharacteristic errors on and off the ball.

And yet some in the north have this fascination with the All Blacks’ dominance somehow coming from the haka.

So MacKenna’s solution, like many northern critics, is to get rid of it altogether and stop World Rugby from “pandering to the dance”.

"That's unfortunate as New Zealand are justifiably big-headed enough without a massaging of their already massive egos.

"There's another reason too though as there is a huge lack of self-awareness about this. Again there are those who'll say it's native and it is to some, but the majority of New Zealand players haven't been Maori.

"Instead, they descend from forefathers who were actually ruthless oppressors of natives."

So MacKenna’s solution to stop promoting the historic oppression of Māoridom is to oppress an piece of Māori culture. Bold call.

Which leads me to the Māoritanga side of this argument.

As a Māori myself, seeing someone write that a piece of my culture is “overdone in rugby and in life” and affiliating it with “merely a boozed-up night out” or “a man leaping about with all the authenticity of a Blackrock College conversation detailing both tillage methodology and livestock vaccination” boiled my blood more than any cup of pre-game tea could.

What gives someone the right, especially on the other side of the world, to decide whether a part of someone else’s culture is “overdone” before dragging its mana through the mud by tying it to alcohol-laden nights or farming practices?

I’ll agree that there’s a bit of it around on YouTube and elsewhere that is “for the clicks” such as American college football teams but that is completely undone by those who perform it with meaning and respect – as anything from any culture should be.

And I’m not just talking about the All Blacks here.

Look at the Air New Zealand staff wishing the All Blacks a safe journey on Auckland International Airport’s tarmac or the Japanese children who welcomed them to their country, their whenua, with haka.

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The All Blacks at the team’s fan day in Kashiwa were treated to a special version of Kapa o Pango. Source: 1 NEWS

MacKenna himself listed graduation ceremonies, homecomings and weddings as other occasions when haka appear. Superb times for it!

I was going to explain why but then the Irishman did it for me – “it’s meant as a celebration of life”.

Those sound like pretty big life celebrations, don’t you think?

The haka performed by the likes of Air NZ and the Japanese children weren’t Ka Mate or another haka that can be taken off the internet with ease either – both of those were their own personal pieces with their own messages and ways of identifying.

And the All Blacks bring their own personal message and identification to every Test they play – we are from New Zealand and we are proud to represent our nation on rugby’s biggest stage.

If that’s not a part of life to celebrate I don’t know what is.