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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

All Blacks - New Zealand Rugby Team and ... 'haka'

Japan has beaten South Africa 34-32 in a 2015 Rugby World Cup pool match, causing the greatest upset in the tournament’s history. The Japanese team scored a last minute try to seal victory in Brighton.  It was a brilliant display by Japan, particularly from fullback Ayumu Goromaru who slotted five penalties two conversions and scored a try of his own.

Heard of – ‘Haka’- a traditional ancestral war cry, dance, or challenge from the Māori people of New Zealand. It is a posture dance performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment.  War haka were originally performed by warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength and prowess in order to intimidate the opposition, but haka are also performed for various reasons: for welcoming distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals, and kapa haka performance groups are very common in schools.

The 2015 Rugby World Cup is the ongoing eighth Rugby World Cup, the quadrennial rugby union world championship. The tournament is currently being hosted by England  from 18 September to 31 October. Twickenham Stadium in London will host the final.  England was chosen to host the competition in July 2009, beating rival bids from Italy, Japan and South Africa.   There are 20 teams in the fray and 12  of them qualified by finishing in the top three places in their pools in the 2011 World Cup. The other eight teams qualified through regional competition.

The New Zealand sports teams' practice of performing a haka before their international matches has made the dance more widely known around the world. This tradition began with the 1888–89 New Zealand Native football team tour and has been carried on by the New Zealand rugby team since 1905.  The New Zealand national men's rugby union team is  officially nicknamed the All Blacks !

They have won over 76% of their Test matches and are the leading Test match points scorers of all time. They are the only international side with a winning record against every country they have played, and since their international debut in 1903 only five nations have defeated New Zealand in Test matches. New Zealand compete with Argentina, Australia and South Africa in The Rugby Championship – known as the Tri Nations before Argentina's entry in 2012.  They have also been named the World Rugby Team of the Year seven times since 2005.

The team's first match was in 1884, and their first international match in 1903 against Australia in Sydney.  New Zealand's early uniforms consisted of a black jersey with a silver fern and white knickerbockers.  They  perform a haka – a Māori challenge or posture dance – before each match. The haka performed has traditionally been Te Rauparaha's Ka Mate, although since 2005 Kapa o Pango – a modified version has occasionally been performed.

Kiwis are not the only team to perform the war dance prior to the match.  Fiji, Samoa and Tonga all have their own tribal dance to perform pre-match as well. 

The dance itself is extremely old and cloaked in legend. The All Blacks have been doing it before Tests since the turn of last century. And not any old person can lead it - tradition dictates that the person delivering the initial commands (loosely translated as "Slap your hands on your thighs, stick out your chest, bend your knees") is of Maori heritage.   Even those who don't know much about rugby -  have heard and seen the "haka" of the All Blacks, a sequence of foot-stomping, tongue-wagging and violent gesticulation, accompanied by deep, rhythmic chanting.

The haka was on show Sunday in London, when the All Blacks defeated Argentina in their first match at the the Rugby World Cup.  It is an intimidating sight for any opponent lining up against it; on the rugby field, some sides facing New Zealand have attempted ripostes, though they rarely look all that convincing.  And, like other powerful symbols of national identity, the haka is no stranger to commercial opportunists.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

23rd Sept. 2015.

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