Wednesday 13 December 2017

Brophy faces grilling for 'rock fundraiser

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

the dust had barely settled on the World Cup final when domestic rugby kicked into gear again throughout Europe. Sure, it's an anti-climax for those who were playing in New Zealand but -- whether it is the English Premiership, the French Top 14 or the Pro12 -- domestic fare is the fuel that keeps the professional engine ticking over.

On balance, New Zealand 2011 was a success, with the rugby-mad Kiwis proving magnificent hosts.

However, there are issues to be addressed between now and England 2015 (it will be four years beyond that again before the game trusts itself to go meaningfully global) if the tournament is to improve in competitiveness and fairness. As of now, the World Cup continues to be a tournament for the big boys, run by the big boys.

Yet even at the top table there are issues in need of scrutiny.

And, while some may view it as mere window-dressing, the time has come to address the Haka for the problem it has become.

Because it makes great TV -- though even couch potatoes worldwide are surely growing weary of its repetitiveness -- we are all held to ransom by a spurious argument about history and tradition. The fact is, the novelty has long worn off.


I remember being in fear of the pre-match Maori ritual before facing it twice in five days when Graham Mourie's All Blacks visited these shores back in 1978.

And the Haka in those days was like ring-a-ring-a-rosie compared to the modern-day choreographed, throat-slitting production.

But back then, there was that mystique of facing down the largely unknown.

The game has moved on and what we are witnessing now is the strongest nation in world rugby, the one which, despite 'only' having won two World Cups, sets the standard for all others.

The country that least needs a psychological gee-up is the one who enjoys it most -- and please may we be spared the Pacific Islands' attempts at mimicry as some sort of justification.

The Haka may have had its place in times past, but in today's professional age it is outdated, providing an outrageously unfair psychological advantage for one side over another immediately before kick-off.

I'm sorry but the 'traditional part of the game' defence no longer carries weight.

I loved what France did when marching in a 'V' towards the ring-fenced Eden Park bullies. But because they crossed the painted (half-way) line, the French get landed with a ludicrous fine. The monetary aspect is irrelevant but the principle sticks in the craw.

No doubt, if Willie Anderson, David Irwin et al were to do today what they did at Lansdowne Road in 1989, when eye-balling Buck Shelford and the precious Haka's movers and shakers of the time, they would be banned from Test rugby for life. How dare they upset rugger's ways and the innocent little All Blacks doing their pre-match thing?

So, too, Richard Cockerill and England when putting it up to Norm Hewitt and the touring Kiwis at Old Trafford in 1997.

Then, of course, there is the lack of respect bit. You know the argument. That real teams stand like petrified statues and accept the so-called Maori challenge that now embraces slitting opposition throats in the updated 'Kapa o Pango' version.

Why should the Haka take place immediately before kick-off? Why should it take place at all?

What did David Campese do that was so wrong when juggling a ball at the Lansdowne Road end of the pitch (prior to ripping the Haka mob apart) in the lead-up to the '91 semi-final? Oh, I forgot -- he showed a lack of respect.

Can we please get a grip here and ask the powers that be to retake control from the lunatics running the asylum?

No team in any sport should be given a distinct psychological advantage immediately prior to kick-off.

Can you imagine what would happen if Kilkenny had an equivalent ritual requiring the hurlers from Tipperary, or any other county, having to stand to attention with hurls in hand and be all but psychologically abused in the minutes before the throw-in?

The Welsh got it close to right in 2008 when they requested the bully boys do their bully-boy thing in the sanctity of their Millennium Stadium dressing-room in order that their own anthem in their own stadium should take priority.

Until the IRB grasps this particular nettle, the very least opposing teams should be allowed to do is their own thing.

If that means a huddle, a passing or kicking drill, a V-line (up to a point), an Anderson special or, indeed, standing still in accepting the challenge then so be it. Personally, I would prefer to see it done away with altogether.

In moving from 'Ka Mate' to 'Kapa o Pango', the All Blacks have shown that the Haka is a central part of their psychological build-up. It is simply wrong that that advantage is set in stone by the governing body under the guise of tradition.

It may seem small fry in the overall scheme of things in rugby today but it is time to end this absurdly unfair ritual.

Blackrock College RFC are staging a fundraiser at Stradbrook on Friday, November 18. It will take the form of a conversation between Niall Brophy and Ronan Wilmot.

Former Blackrock, Leinster, Ireland and Lions wing legend Brophy will be interrogated by well-known actor, producer and fellow 'Rock stalwart Wilmot.

It promises to be an eclectic, conversational mix of stories and laughs, charting a great rugby career.

It is the first in a series of similar fundraisers planned by the club, with Ray McLoughlin, Brendan Mullin, Willie Duggan and Brian O'Driscoll also lined up to take part.

Tickets cost €10 and are available from the club.

Irish Independent

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