The Derek Alberts Column: Time to get rid of the Haka
It's an emotive topic and one that has been around for years, and given the current furore surrounding the racial makeup of the Bok squad, it's hardly surprising that the issue has reared its ugly head once again.
What is surprising, however, is that the article was penned not by a disgruntled South African, but by a New Zealand journalist. A journalist who not too long ago described Johannesburg as a "hellhole" and "the most dangerous dump" he had ever been in. See for yourself.
The man in question is Chris Rattue, a reporter who I first encountered during the 2007 Rugby World Cup. He penned a column on the eve of the All Blacks' quarter-final clash against France, and while few would've predicted a French victory, Rattue went so far as to suggest that "the All Blacks could play in sack cloths and they'd still stomp all over France".
It was a brave statement to make given the New Zealanders' penchant for imploding in World Cups, particularly against the French, and ultimately it backfired on him as the host nation dumped Richie McCaw's men out of the tournament. Again.
After the fact, the piece makes for hilarious reading.
So it's with the above in mind that I've come to take little of what Rattue writes seriously, but rather than criticise, I'm prepared to fight fire with fire, follow his lead, and talk about something that has absolutely nothing to do with me either - The Haka.
Frankly, it has to go.
What purpose does it serve other than to give the likes of Piri Weepu an extended run in the All Blacks jersey? It's an archaic tradition that stems back to the late 1800s, a time when so little rugby was played that such sideshows needed to be included in order to fill time.
Dancing men have no place on a rugby field, and forget the testosterone-filled war cry we see nowadays, that only came into fruition in the 1980s when Buck Shelford, a man who had his testicle ripped open by the French during a Test, decided it needed a revamp. For most of its existence the fabled Ka Mate induced nothing but hilarity from opponents, as can be seen here:
Shelford changed all that. The patty cake love-taps were soon replaced by raw aggression, throbbing veins and pure power, while the lyrics remained just as hard-core.
Or did they?
Sure, in its native tongue Ka Mate sounds extremely intimidating, but translated, it quickly becomes apparent that the Haka is nothing more than a glorified aerobics class.
Ringa pakia! (Slap the hands against the thighs!)
Uma tiraha! (Puff out the chest.)
Turi whatia! (Bend the knees!)
Hope whai ake! (Let the hips follow!)
Waewae takahia kia kino! (Stomp the feet as hard as you can!)
Leader: Ka mate, ka mate (I die, I die,)
Team: Ka ora' Ka ora' (I live, I live)
Leader: Ka mate, ka mate (I die, I die,)
Team: Ka ora Ka ora " (I live, I live,)
All: Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru (This is the hairy man)
Nāna i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā (Who caused the sun to shine again for me)
A Upane! Ka Upane! (Up the ladder, Up the ladder)
A Upane Kaupane" (Up to the top)
Whiti te rā,! (The sun shines!)
Slap the hands against the thighs? Let the hips follow?
It's not exactly William Wallace.
To think Kobus Wiese stood eyeball to eyeball with Jonah Lomu during the 1995 World Cup final, as the giant winger screamed menacingly to him that "this is the hairy man". It kind of ruins the moment.
Not that we'll ever see something similar again.
The All Blacks' have been wrapped in so much cotton wool when it comes to the Haka, that opposing sides have to practically stand behind their own tryline when confronting the dance. That's not too bad when Ka Mate is concerned, given the aforementioned lyrics, but it's a different story when Kapa o Pango comes into play.
Once it was discovered that the meaning of Ka Mate was little more than a Billy Blanks session, the powers that be hastily penned a new version, Kapa o Pango, which made its debut against the Boks in Dunedin in 2005.
Gone were lines like "Stomp your feet as hard as you can" and in came "Stand up to the fear, Stand up to the terror, Team in Black, yeah!"
Not only were the words far more menacing, but they were accompanied by the players drawing their thumbs down their throats. The NZRU tried to sell it as them 'drawing the breath of life into the heart and lungs', but those of us with eyes acknowledged it for what it was - a simple threat to slit the throats of the opposition - a challenge made impossible to stand up to when witnessed from a million miles away.
The new version, which admittedly is used sparingly, coupled with the added intensity that Shelford injected, no doubt gives the All Blacks an adrenalin kick ahead of any clash, and thus it must be stopped in its tracks.
Former Bok lock Mark Andrews managed to make one All Black do just that, back in the day when the sides were allowed to stand ten paces apart. As everyone knows, New Zealanders come out of the womb doing the Haka, forever prepared for the day that they'll be called upon to perform on the world stage. Andrews' opposite number, Norman Maxwell, was making his test debut, and quickly locked eyes with the Springbok as he began his routine.
This was it. This was the moment. Maxwell was performing his first ever Haka in an All Black jersey. Against the Boks no less.
And Andrews blew him a kiss.
The result was catastrophic. For Maxwell.
The lock completely lost his way, and screwed up what was meant to be the most special moment in his career up until that point. If only he understood the lyrics - he could have simply taken direction from the lead vocalist, probably Weepu - and got back on track.
"Right, so let my hips follow…..stomp my feet. Ok ok, I got this"
It's also bloody brilliant.
Forget everything I said. The Haka is here to stay, and stay it must. In every way, shape and form. Although it would be nice if the opposition could get a little closer to the action, Wiese-style.
Derek Alberts is a sports anchor at Eyewitness News. _Follow him on Twitter _ @derekalberts1.