The last month has been a pretty long and interesting time. I’ve been to every game of the British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, from Whangarei to Dunedin. I’ve listened to a lot along the way – opinions of locals and tourists alike, the Kill Bill theme booming out around grounds when the Lions take the paddock, and the bored drone of Warren Gatland as he sits through another press conference he doesn’t want to be at.
I’ve also listened to several attempts to get New Zealanders to chant “Tutira Mai – Tatou! Tatou!”
Pretty much everyone in New Zealand knows this song. They teach it to us in school, and it’s often busted out as either a default option for when a singalong is mandatory, or as a drunken bonding tool for backpackers on their OE.
This month NZ Rugby have tried to make it into a rousing call to drown out raucous Lions fans. There’s been an ad campaign starring former All Black Glen Osborne, videos that have played on big screens before and during every match of the tour, and a traveling MC who gets the chant going just before kick off and at halftime.
But… it hasn’t quite worked. This isn’t a slight on the union or the agency that came up with it, because it is getting engagement and does sound pretty good. The main problem is that the only people chanting are the Lions fans, who have appropriated it as their own – replacing “Tatou! Tatou!” with “Lions! Lions!”
I don’t really mind that last bit, because after the Crusaders and Highlanders games I started to feel sorry for the poor guy (who I’m sure used to be a substitute teacher at my high school) whose job it is to try and get the crowd involved. In the second test he finally bit the bullet and did his pre game piece on the big screen in a huge section of Lions fans, because he knew they’d at least join in.
So far Rotorua has been the only place where it got a modicum of buy-in from local fans. But the trampling the Maori All Blacks got from the Lions that night meant everything, including the chant, went flat quicker than a plastic cup of Waikato Draught.
That’s not to say the local crowds have been quiet at every game, though. About 25 minutes into the match against the Highlanders, the Dunedin faithful burst into their version of the White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’, overlaying the main riff with “Wai-sa-ke Na-ho-lo”.
That seemed to unleash a beast among the traveling fans. From then on, whenever Maro Itoje has done anything remotely positive, the British have given the song the same alt-lyric treatment with his name.
Both versions battled for supremacy in the second test, when both men started. This is the key moment when international rugby got as close to a game of football, or at least a darts tournament, than it has ever been.
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) July 1, 2017
The story of how the 2003 indie tune became so prominent in the world of sports is an interesting one, however the Highlanders have so far been the only rugby side to adopt it in this part of the world. After this tour though, we could be hearing even more versions around Super Rugby to recognise the feats of players with the right amount of syllables in their names.
Saturday night in Wellington was the loudest crowd the tour has had, maybe the loudest I’ve ever experienced a rugby ground get in New Zealand – and at its zenith were the competing Naholo and Itoje chants. Given what’s at stake for the third and deciding test at Eden Park, it’s probably going to get even louder. Maybe it’s time to embrace the organic and stop trying to make ‘Tutira Mai’ happen – so far all it’s done is fire up the wrong set of fans.