POSTCARD FROM THE EDGE: A WEEK in to the tour and one of the strangest aspects of being back in New Zealand has been the absence of Hakas.
During the World Cup last year, it was impossible to escape these Maori war dances. The desperate need to end what was perceived as an unfathomable 24-year wait to be crowned world champions again had the entire nation on edge, and performing the Haka was the ideal way to release tension.
Maori warriors shouted, gyrated and blew their horns ahead of every game, random 'flash mob' Hakas were performed regularly in city streets and you couldn't go into the local shop to buy a pack of smokes without an assistant invoking the great god Mahuika to bring down fire to your fingertips.
There hasn't been a Powhiri to be seen either, with the Ireland squad only scheduled to receive one traditional Maori welcome during their three-week stay. Again, this is in stark contrast to the Powhiri-fest at the World Cup when Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll needed Vaseline protection for all the nose-rubbing he was required to perform.
As Shakespeare said, "when they seldom come, they wished for come" and when it comes to the Haka, absence has certainly made the heart grow fonder.
The Haka is part of the concerted drive to create an aura around the black jersey with the express purpose of intimidating opponents. The New Zealand Union make no apologies for this approach: their official website is allblacks.com and instead of 'New Zealand U-20s' or 'New Zealand Women', they insist on referring to their subsidiary teams as the 'Junior All Blacks' and 'Black Ferns'.
Cowing opponents is the ultimate goal and it is not hard to place the likes of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Conrad Smith on a pedestal because not only are they superb rugby players, they are excellent role models who carry themselves with tremendous dignity (an example other rugby 'figureheads' like Danny Care and Quade Cooper have consistently failed to follow).
Opponents banning the use of 'All Blacks' and referring only to 'New Zealand' is a minor psychological trick used, but anything that can reduce the impression of a team of untouchables has to be embraced.
Unless you are a Pacific Island nation with your own war dance, countering the Haka is less straightforward. Fronting up to it, as Ireland captain Willie Anderson found out in 1989, only fires up the Kiwis even more.
Peter O'Mahony's insistence during the week that he was "not too bothered" by facing the Haka is the right attitude to have on this trip, mirroring the disregard shown by a snarling Sebastien Chabal when France beat them in 2007.
The only thing to do with the Haka is look it square in the eye and refuse to be intimidated.
Easier said than done, for the current All Blacks side is a fearsome looking bunch. The Maoris always appear terrifying performing the Haka but the 'Pakeha' (Maori word for New Zealanders of European descent) are mean-looking hombres too. Andrew Hore looks like a cage fighter on the loose while Brodie Retallick may only be a couple of years out of school but has the appearance a baddie from a Sergio Leone western.
Irish players from the 1990s tell you that the best tactic was to always "look at the blondie fellas" on the basis that a man with blond highlights is hard to take seriously at the best of times but especially when they are doing a dance with their tongues out.
Where is Justin Marshall when you need him?