LONDON (Reuters) - New Zealand staged their cherished pre-match haka in the dressing room on Saturday after a dispute with the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) over the timing of the traditional war dance.
The crowd at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, gathered to watch the last match of the All Blacks’ European tour against Wales, were restricted to silent TV replays on the giant screens, missing out on the real thing.
Before last year’s centenary test, New Zealand agreed to a request to stage the haka in between the national anthems as in the first game between the teams in 1905.
This year they refused, wanting to return the haka to its usual position, after the anthems just before kick-off.
“Last year in Wales for the centenary game, they told us that in 1905, apparently, the haka was done at different time,” head coach Graham Henry told reporters after his team’s 45-10 victory. “But then they asked us to do the same again and we said no, so it was stalemate.”
Captain Richie McCaw added: “It’s disappointing for fans but it’s been traditional to do it the way it’s been done and there wasn’t a good reason to change it.
“If the other team wants to mess around, we’ll just do the haka in the shed (dressing room). At the end of the day, haka is about spiritual preparation and we do it for ourselves.”
In a statement the WRU said it had consulted two Maori cultural experts before making its request.
“The WRU took advice from Maori chiefs (kaumatua) before last year’s game and were assured that the haka was performed to invite a response from the opposing team.
“This year, the NZRU were informed that the formal response from the Wales team and the Welsh nation would be the Welsh national anthem Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.
“Following lengthy discussions with the New Zealand team management, the Welsh rugby union were saddened to learn that the All Blacks decided not to perform their haka prior to the match.”
The haka dispute and the decision by English referee David Pearson to send McCaw to the sin-bin in the second half were the only sour notes for New Zealand on Saturday as the All Blacks gave another master class in the virtues of power, pace and possession.
A try scored by centre Luke McAlister in the third minute, converted as a matter of course by Daniel Carter, deflated Welsh expectations before the fans had properly settled into their seats. The All Blacks romped to a 28-3 halftime lead before making a series of second-half substitutions.
The try-count eventually finished 5-1 in New Zealand’s favour, with Sitiveni Sivivatu scoring a hat-trick, while openside flanker Martyn Williams was the only Welsh scorer, driving over while McCaw was temporarily absent.
Now New Zealand’s task is to keep their players fit and ready for next year’s World Cup, a goal which has become something of a national obsession after the All Blacks’s failure to win the game’s ultimate trophy since the inaugural tournament in 1987.
Henry has succeeded in building a squad with cover in all positions for his first-choice team.
But the rest of the major world rugby powers will be both watching New Zealand’s progress and plotting their downfall and, as Carter emphasised last week, the All Blacks cannot afford to relax.
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.