The Rugby World Cup is just around the corner. The sport comes under the spotlight and it has a chance to impress those who wouldn’t normally tune in. You might be approached by some ‘egg-chasing’ novice over the coming weeks and asked for an ‘in’ to the tournament. “This rugby malarkey… What should I be looking out for?”
So that got me thinking. What is guaranteed oval ball eye candy? Where do we go for a highlight of the tournament? I ummed and ahhed. Scrolling through pages of copious rugby info, racking my brains for some indisputable iconography to present.
And then, like with all good mysteries, the answer came out of left field. I’d been looking in the wrong place. The best thing about international rugby, isn’t actually, strictly, rugby.
For someone who doesn’t follow our beloved game, this event is a crowd pulling certainty. This never fails to deliver. It doesn’t get tired or old, in fact there is definitive evidence to show it has got better with age. It encapsulates everything the game of rugby is about; unity, challenge, power and poise. Although not solely theirs, it has been immortalised by the greatest team to ever play the game. It is the moment that everyone in the stadium gets to their feet, regardless of the colour of their shirt. It is without doubt one of the finest, most terrifying, most enthralling spectacles in televised sport, and its name is the simplest of four letter words. The moment you need to be watching the Rugby World Cup? The Haka.
A war dance of South Sea Island origin, the Haka is performed before a match by a number of different international teams at a Rugby World Cup. However, one team does it a little better than others. The All Blacks of New Zealand have cultivated their routine into one of the most scintillating pieces of choreography you could hope for. The atmosphere this pre-match challenge conjures up is spine-tingling. Just what to match it with is the conjecture of any who line up in opposition. The Haka is the moment in the broadcast that has the normally ‘rugby passive’ members of your family edging on to the corner of the sofa. “Mum, it’s the Haka!” You call through. She appears, eyes glued to the screen; the room alive with alacrity.
Professionalism has changed rugby. In some ways for the worse; long are the essays and profuse the campaigners of a bygone era when things were better. But if you are looking for something that has genuinely advanced in the modern era, trudge no further than here. Without question, the Haka has improved; got itself together.
The dance has gone through a few redesigns in the past twenty years. And indeed tweaks are now made for certain occasions or opposition but the overriding theme is always intimidation. The eyes wide, the tongue pushed out and down, the stares steadfast and mean; plucky opposition attempt to meet it face on, some better than others, all desperate to keep one thought from their heads “They are going to kill us”. The rhythmical thumping of thighs and elbows, starting slow and building like a distant freight train. The pauses, as good as any the world of theatre can produce; just the one Maori voice leading proceedings, his chest heaving under the unquestionable honour; the echoes of other men reverberating with solidarity.
Some say it is an unfair advantage; for me, it gives both participating teams an edge. Stadia have, rather disappointingly, started to boo this opening salvo. I do hope this doesn’t continue during the World Cup. I feel the Haka needs to be observed with the reverence it deserves. As I say, I genuinely feel both sides get a lot from it. But regardless, this is your ‘go to’ moment in 2015’s showpiece tournament. Of course, there should be some incredible rugby; moments of skill, bravery and tactical shrewdness, but I don’t know when. I know the Haka is coming and I know just how good it will be.
Tune in if you’ve not seen it before; if you have, I know you’ll be watching, full of excitement, pride and awe. The haka is a tip of the hat to history, honour and prestige. A reason why rugby is what it is, and why it is so wonderful.
Sam Roberts © 2015. (Text only). All Rights Reserved.