LONDON – All Black captain Kieran Read has insisted England “can do what they like” in response to the haka at Twickenham on Saturday.
The haka, a Maori challenge, has long formed part of the pre kickoff routine of New Zealand, the reigning world champions.
But how their opponents should respond remains a thorny issue.
Back in 1989, Ireland captain Willie Anderson had his players link arms and advance towards the haka – a stirring sight, but one that didn’t stop New Zealand winning 23-6 in Dublin.
Two years later, in a World Cup semi-final, Australia great David Campese ignored the haka completely, preferring to kick a ball behind his own posts.
The Wallabies won, before beating France in the final.
British and Irish Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll tried throwing a blade of grass in the air, symbolising the picking up of the traditional white feather, ahead of the first Test in 2005.
The All Blacks viewed that as a lack of respect, and within a minute, O’Driscoll’s tour was over following a controversial ‘spear’ tackle by New Zealand captain Tana Umaga.
France were even fined for their response before an agonising 8-7 loss to New Zealand in the 2011 World Cup final in Auckland.
Les Bleus were supposed to remain behind the 10-metre line in their own half, but they advanced towards the All Blacks in a ‘V-formation’, led by captain Thierry Dusautoir.
France were subsequently fined £2 500 for a “breach of the tournament cultural ritual protocol”.
“At one stage, we were so close to them that they wanted to kiss the New Zealanders, but I told them to take it easy,” said Dusautoir afterwards.
Saturday’s match will be the first time England have played New Zealand for four years.
England are unlikely to emulate Richard Cockerill, who in 1997 confronted All Black forward Norm Hewitt during a Haka at Old Trafford – a match that England lost 25-8.
But a relaxed Read, speaking at New Zealand’s London hotel on Friday, said: “We do the haka as a challenge, but it is more about us connecting as a team. The opposition can do what they like.
“It’s part of the history of the game for us as New Zealanders.
“I certainly get a kick out of it, and I’m sure the crowd does as well. Whether they sing or what, it adds to the atmosphere.
“For me, it’s a great part of the game,” the No 8 added.
It's been four years since the #AllBlacks swept England 3-0 on their tour to New Zealand.— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) November 8, 2018
Who will come out on top when these two teams meet in the much anticipated clash this weekend?#ENGvNZL pic.twitter.com/wXGCuBAfvQ
England were far from convincing in a 12-11 win over South Africa at Twickenham last weekend.
But Read, who played in the All Blacks’ 24-21 victory over England at ‘headquarters’ in 2014, was braced for a tough encounter in front of a capacity crowd of more than 80 000.
“They (England) play a game, it can be fairly conservative, but it wins football (rugby) games, and they’ve got some guys out there who are pretty devastating with ball-in-hand.”
He added: “It’s a special day, playing England at Twickenham. It’s one of those occasions you remember across your career.”AFP