Whatever the stage and whoever the opponents, the All Blacks haka is perhaps the most recognisable and anticipated pre-match rituals in rugby, and it has evolved greatly over the years.
And what bigger stage in the game than the Rugby World Cup. Some of the most exciting and dramatic matches have been disputed every four years and, more often than not, New Zealand has been front and centre of these enormous occasions.
The haka is steeped in Maori heritage and culture, but despite this, it has only become part of the All Blacks rugby tradition in recent times.
From its origins in the 1970s to the modern day, the haka has undergone a lot of evolution and change. And it’s become synonymous with the game.
It’s safe to say that the early hakas were something of a rushed mess, as often they were done without much choreography or timing, and they were rarely staged in the way they are today. To top it all off, the number of actual Maori players in the New Zealand squad was regrettably low as well, meaning that the passion, technique and general appearance of the haka left much to people’s desires.
One of the key All Blacks players to revolutionise the haka in the 1980s was Wayne “Buck” Shelford, who made it far more regimental and frequent. The ritual was a big hit straight away and helped produce World Cup scenes such as the inaugural final in 1987 and subsequent spine-tingling moments in the 1991 semi-final and 1995 final.
As the haka evolved, the opposition towards it also increased. Not disdain for the culture by any means, more the challenge being accepted and reciprocated by facing teams. David Campese’s famous response to the haka came in the form of ignoring it altogether, while France and South Africa opted to front up and stand almost nose-to-nose with the All Blacks.
This pre-match intimidation, excitement and appreciation of Kiwi culture has helped transcend the game, and give the build-up to kick-off far more importance.
Long may it continue!