In July 2019, as they waited in the press conference room after the All Blacks had drawn 16-16 with South Africa in Wellington, Andy Burt leaned over and asked Jamie Wall what he thought about an idea he had for a book; it would focus on great All Blacks matches from the perspective of the opposition, and in particular, their memories of the haka they faced. Just over a year later, the idea has come to life in the form of their new publication, ‘Facing the Haka.’
How many times have you watched the haka? The chances are it’s more than me. Growing up on the other side of the world in the 1980’s, meant All Blacks matches were a rare sight. I’ve got vague memories of the 1983 British & Irish Lions tour, better ones of the 1987 Rugby World Cup, but television coverage was limited and hardly user friendly for a young kid who should be in bed at kick off time. 1989 was easier, when the All Blacks toured Europe. I was 13 and the matches were in the afternoon. Ireland hadn’t played the All Blacks since 1978, so when they visited Lansdowne Road that November, the anticipation and excitement was incredible.
‘As the All Blacks lined up to perform the haka, Ireland linked arms and marched up to halfway, led by captain Willie Anderson. This was holy ground for Irish rugby, and it was clear they weren’t going to roll over.’
Willie Anderson, standing in the middle of his teammates, started to march
towards the All Blacks until he was face to face with Wayne Shelford as it ended. The crowd erupted at the spectacle before them.
The chapter in the book that looks at this, is called ‘The Great Haka Revival.’ It goes back in time and examines the role of Buck Shelford and Hika Reid from 1985, in breathing new life into the tradition; the way they taught the All Blacks how to haka and the concept of tikanga. Lansdowne Road may be the centrepiece of the chapter, but the additional history from Burt and Wall is an example of the book’s strength. For each haka, there is a story or stories, behind it.
After the first chapter called, ‘Beginnings’, which lays out the history and culture behind the haka, we are taken through a range of All Blacks games, from 1924, when they played Wales in Swansea, all the way through to the Rugby World Cup semi-final last year and England’s response before their famous victory. But the book doesn’t just cover the All Blacks; it also looks at the Black Ferns, the Māori All Blacks, the Black Ferns Sevens and the All Blacks Sevens. One of my favourite chapters is ‘Sevens Whānau’ which relates to January this year, when the Black Ferns Sevens and the All Blacks Sevens were both victorious at the Hamilton round of the World Sevens Series. It was the first time that the women had been an official part of the New Zealand leg of the series, and for the men, they hadn’t won a home tournament in four, long years. Clark Laidlaw, a Scotsman in charge of the All Blacks Sevens, reflects on how he tried to rebuild the mana of the squad after the 2016 Olympics and Rubi Tui, one of the stars of the Black Ferns Sevens speaks from the heart, when she says:
‘To be standing there in that moment with my jersey on, with my medal on, was unreal. I’d been practicing the pūkana for that moment for honestly eight years….The power the Māori culture has within sports is epic….It’s so important for such a deeper reason than sport.’
In the chapter, ‘Learning The Hard Way’ we go back to the All Blacks vs Australia at Athletic Park in 1996. The Wallabies captain that day was John Eales and under the instruction of coach Greg Smith, he and the team carried on warming up
after the anthems, ignoring the haka. The Wallabies lost heavily but the book looks beyond that day and follows Eales and the steps he took to learn about the haka when he visited New Zealand many years later, with criticism from his Mum regarding those events still ringing in his ears.
‘Facing the Haka’ is your classic coffee table book. Big, strong and full of amazing archive photographs. The research from Burt and Wall is excellent which leads to all the chapters having great depth. Some haka you’ll remember, some you won’t, but if you pick this up, you’ll learn plenty about the people and the stories behind them.
Follow Aiden on Twitter