The Highlanders have opened Super Rugby Aotearoa with a bang by performing a haka ahead of the first match of the new season.

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Led by co-captain Ash Dixon, who is playing in his 100th Super Rugby match, the Highlanders laid down the challenge to their South Island neighbours in front of a boisterous home crowd at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

It is the first time the Dunedin-based franchise have performed the haka, called Hautoa Kia Toa, before a match.

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In a statement, the Highlanders said the haka represents “the strengths and intelligence of our Kai Tahu peoples in battle and warfare”.

“It draws a parallel to the Highlanders’ ethos and invites fearlessness, bravery and camaraderie in the heat of the battle.”

Highlanders head coach Tony Brown added: “The haka is a unique representation of who we are , the region we belong to and play for. It’s something we have wanted to do for a while and we are delighted with the result.

“It has real meaning to the team and we were proud to perform it for the first time at home in front of our own people  at the opening match of Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021.”

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It comes four years after they handed British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton a sword prior to their clash with the touring side, which they won 23-22.

On that same tour, the Blues, Crusaders and Chiefs all performed their own respective hakas against the Lions, while it has become commonplace for franchises to perform a haka post-match following a victory or in celebration of a milestone.

Rarely, if ever, have hakas been performed pre-match at Super Rugby level, though, meaning the Highlanders’ performance brought an extra edge to an already highly-anticipated fixture.

As of half-time, the Crusaders are currently leading the match 14-10.

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