WELLINGTON, New Zealand – The composer of the Auckland Blues' haka defended the war dance on Thursday after critics complained it included a throat-slitting gesture that was offensive to victims of the London terror attacks.
The Super Rugby team unveiled their new haka in front of a 40,000-plus crowd at Eden Park on Wednesday night before posting an upset 22-16 win over the British and Irish Lions.
Players performed the pre-match challenge, which culminated in them drawing their thumbs across their throats, immediately after a minute's silence to honour victims of the London attacks.
Critics said it was poorly timed, given that some of the London victims reportedly had their throats cut with knives.
"Surely someone in the Blues set-up should have spotted the tasteless juxtaposition," columnist James Corrigan wrote in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Whiria Meltzer, a Maori cultural expert who helps the Blues compose the haka, said no offence was intended.
"The haka's wasn't aim to disrespect the British Lions and their whanau (family) back home in any way," the former sevens player posted on Facebook.
"More like acknowledging and respecting them and all those who have sadly passed on."
He said the gesture in question symbolised drawing breath in Maori culture.
"The action that is across the chest/neck, to me represents hauora – acknowledging the first breath of life," he said.
A version of the haka called Kapa O Pango introduced by the All Blacks in 2005 has a similar movement and has faced similar criticism.
Former Wallabies coach John Connolly said "throat-slitting probably doesn't send a good message", while Wales great Gerald Davies argued "such a repugnant gesture has no place on a sports field".
The All Blacks traditional haka Ka Mate, which has been in use for more than a century, does not include the gesture.
The Maori war dance is traditionally reserved for the All Blacks but New Zealand's five Super Rugby sides all plan to lay down haka challenges to the Lions during the current tour.
Lions coach Warren Gatland, a New Zealander, has welcomed the development, saying it gives his players a chance to familiarise themselves with it before the Test series against the world champions.