WELLINGTON – All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has rejected suggestions from former players that the team's famous pre-match haka has been devalued by overuse.
The world champions perform the traditional Maori challenge before every Test match but former New Zealand prop Kees Meeuws told British author Peter Bills the foot-stomping, chest-thumping ritual had become too familiar.
“It has lost its mana (prestige). It has become a showpiece,” he said in an excerpt from Bills' book “The Jersey” published in the New Zealand Herald.
“They should do it at certain Test matches but not all... now they play 14 Test matches a year and that's too much as far as the haka is concerned.”
Meeuws' sentiments were echoed by the legendary Colin Meads, who told Bills before his death last year that “we were haka-ed out there for a while and still are”.
Hansen defended the haka, which critics say gives New Zealand an intimidatory edge before Tests, saying it was an All Blacks' tradition.
“We don't use it any different than we've ever used it. It's part of the commencement of the game and it means a lot to this group,” he told reporters late Sunday. “They understand all about it, we understand it's not for anybody else other than ourselves and we draw a lot from it.”
The All Blacks used to perform the haka before selected tour matches but it now features at all of their international fixtures.
There are two versions - the traditional Ka Mate, which they first performed in 1905, and the Kapa O Pango, a version specially commissioned for the team that was introduced a century later.
The ritual has often been a flashpoint in the past as opposing teams attempt to show they will not be cowed.
Ireland famously advanced towards the All Blacks at Lansdowne Road in 1989 until the teams' skippers were eyeball to eyeball, while David Campese pointedly ignored the haka before Australia beat New Zealand in the 1991 World Cup semi-final.
In 2011, France were fined when they formed a flying-V and marched into the All Blacks' half before the World Cup final - a punishment that critics said showed authorities had become too sensitive about “disrespecting” the haka.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)