As Warren Gatland’s Lions prepare to face their first haka, James Harrington counts down nine epic moments from hakas past
How do you respond to the haka? It’s a question that has stumped some of the finest rugby minds – and even more of its not-so fine minds – for years.
Some leave it to the crowd. England and Scotland both tried it in 2008 – the English faithful at Twickenham drowned out the ceremony with a lusty rendition of one line of Swing Low Sweet Chariot, while the Scottish fans at Murrayfield tried a Loch Lomond variation on the theme.
Here, we count down the nine best haka moments, from Willie Anderson’s tete-a-tete with Wayne Shelford in 1989, to Wales’s intense stare-down in 2008.
And, yes, Richard Cockerill’s in here, too.
9 The fightin’ Irish, led by Willie Anderson, were one of the first to give the stand-off thing a serious go in 1989
That was about as close as the Irish got to victory. It ended 23-6.
8 The Australians did their best to ignore it in 1996
Maybe they would have been better advised to pay attention. Because they upset their opponents. Who proceeded to put them to the sword. New Zealand won 43-6.
7 A year later, Richard Cockerill gave Norm Hewitt the “C’mon – ‘ave a go” in his now-notorious one-man challenge
6 On the same tour, Munster’s Kiwi quartet, led by Dougie Howlett, performed a pre-emptive haka
And the Thomond crowd lapped it up. It nearly worked, too, but New Zealand edged the game 18-16 at the death.
5 There must have been something about 2008, because on that same tour, Wales’ response came in the form of interpretive statuary
Be patient. The stand-off lasted so long that referee Jonathan Kaplan had to remind both sets of players what they were actually there to do.
Even after the reminder, Wales forgot that they still had to play a game of rugby and lost 29-9.
4 At the 2011 World Cup final, an effectively coachless France flicked an almighty Anglo-Saxon V at it
Aaaand… France nearly won.
3 In defence of the French, they’d done something similar at the previous World Cup
And had won. 20-18.
2 And at Australia 2003, there was this New Zealand / Tongan war dance-off
Hairs. On. The. Back. Of. Your. Neck. For half a minute.
1 Not strictly a response, but this tribute to Anthony Foley from the Maori All Blacks before their match against Munster in November 2016 is an incredible moment
It’s been all-but forgotten amid the emotion of the moment, but Munster’s players – a ragtag army of the club’s second battalion and five Academy recruits stared them down. And, again, the packed Thomond Park crowd lapped it up. And then they were treated to something rather special, as Munster won 27-14
Of those nine responses, two actually worked – which is actually better than the rest of the rugby world’s win record against New Zealand, so there may be something in finding some way to accept the challenge. The trick is knowing what the best response is.
Warren Gatland is answering culture with culture on this tour, with the tourists indulging in a spot of close-harmony singing, featuring songs from the four nations that make up the Lions squad.
But, on the pitch, the haka deserves something a little more physical. In keeping with the cultural aspect, here are four traditional responses – one from each of the countries that make up the squad.
From England: Morris Dancing
It’s definitely traditional. And definitely cultural. But even extreme morris dancing is grown men with bells on the their legs. And there’s always the risk of concussion.
From Scotland: Sword Dancing
Hairy-arsed forwards in rugby boots jumping daintily over a sharp object on the ground in front of them? What could possibly go wrong? Oh, and kilts… Danger there.
From Wales: Clog Dancing
From Ireland: Irish Dancing
Let’s go for broke. Complete with close-harmony singing, we give you…
Admit it, That would go down a storm at Eden Park. And we’re sure Sam Warburton could carry off that flowing silk shirt-and-mullet combo.
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.