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Either haka or national anthem for New Zealand - but not both


'National anthems have a powerful and unifying effect which is something Michael Cheika has used in the past'

'National anthems have a powerful and unifying effect which is something Michael Cheika has used in the past'

'National anthems have a powerful and unifying effect which is something Michael Cheika has used in the past'

The best kind of Rugby World Cup foreplay has been watching players during their national anthems before each game. It might be a lame exercise in pop psychology but it is still a chance to pick up cheap clues about how nervous, pumped or psyched players appear to be ahead of the main performance.

The TV cameras love getting up close and personal with the players; with the cameras panning across their faces, zooming up their noses and focusing in on their dilated pupils in the hope of capturing the money-shot of a tear appearing ever so patriotically in the corner of their eye.

We probably should have known we were onto something when Jamie Heaslip produced that assassin's smile at the end of 'Ireland's Call' before the game with France earlier this month. We probably should have known Argentina were onto something when they wailed and bawled their way through their national anthem before the quarter-final with Ireland.

If it had been anyone else, you would have assumed the game was Ireland's to lose. But Argentina? It seems the higher the emotional dial is turned up during their national anthem, the better they perform.

Former Argentina hooker and current Australia forwards coach Mario Ledesma sang the Argentina national anthem as he stood with Michael Cheika in the Australia coaches' box before their semi-final win over the Pumas last Sunday.

Earlier in the summer before the Wallabies' Rugby Championship game with Argentina in Mendoza, Cheika told Ledesma to make sure to sing his own national anthem. "He (Ledesma) wasn't sure if he was allowed to sing or not. I said, 'Of course, that's your heritage' and I want him to love that," Cheika said last week.


Patriotism and heritage is really what you make of it so they can be pretty loose concepts. But singing/roaring/listening/humming along to your national anthem before a game has a way of bringing out a version of patriotism in you like nothing else can. The moment feels personal and private but also public and shared.

Of course it's not an official "national anthem" but I've never heard 'Ireland's Call' belted out the way it was before Ireland's win over France. For the opening game of the tournament between England and Fiji at Twickenham, a steward working at the game stood beside me singing 'God Save the Queen' in the most operatic, respectful and proud way I have ever heard. It felt like his passion wasn't all about the rugby match but everything to do with showing loyalty to his country.

National anthems have a powerful and unifying effect which is something Cheika has used in the past. For games like their November Test against Ireland last year and the Rugby Championship game with New Zealand in the summer, Cheika and his coaches lined up opposite their players on the touchline for the Australia national anthem as opposed to standing in their usual positions way up in the stand. With their arms linked, they sang 'Advance Australia Fair' back to their players. Cheika was as good as saying to his players: "Mate, I'm right here with you."

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So it will be an unforgettable moment for Australia and New Zealand when they line up for their national anthems in today's Rugby World Cup final at Twickenham. New Zealand will have their 'God Defend New Zealand' anthem and Australia will sing 'Advance Australia Fair'.

But that's where the fairness ends.

Because of course New Zealand, being the All Blacks, get another chance to get even more pumped and psyched. When New Zealand are involved everything else feels like it's foreplay leading up to the haka. And it doesn't matter if they're playing at home or away, the haka is always the final act on the pitch before the game starts.

I don't think this is fair. Are we all just happy to accept that that is just the way it is in world rugby? Are we all so in awe and besotted by the haka that we're content to allow the All Blacks score a psychological advantage by having everyone stand to attention to them twice in the build-up to every single game?

I like watching the haka just as much as the next person. And I certainly don't want to come across as ridiculing it like the attention-starved ex-England player Matt Dawson did when he unloaded on us his parody of the haka (dubbed the hakarena) before the RWC started.

But why is it that New Zealand are allowed to have both 'God Defend New Zealand' and the haka before every single game? Yes, the Pacific Islands also have their versions of the haka but they're not the top-ranked team in the world. Do other countries not see it as unfair to them or is there a fear of questioning anything to do with the haka in case it's confused as being critical, or worse, disrespectful?

Wales changed the running order when they performed their national anthem after the haka in a centenary match at the Millennium Stadium in 2005. A year later, also at the Millennium Stadium, New Zealand refused to allow Wales to perform their national anthem after the haka so they kicked up a fuss and did their ceremonial war dance in the dressing-room before the game. In other words, don't mess with New Zealand tradition.

Why are New Zealand allowed to dictate protocol like this especially when they are away from home?

The governing body World Rugby clearly want to protect the haka. France were fined £2,500 for advancing over the halfway line during the haka before the 2011 Rugby World Cup final which breached a "cultural ritual protocol". So while New Zealand have the right to perform the haka, the opposition have no right in deciding how to face it.

The haka has a powerful place in rugby history. But just because it's traditional doesn't mean it is fair that a country has the luxury of having both a national anthem and a haka and therefore a double-dip of emotional patriotism before a game. They should just be allowed do either the anthem or the haka.

Or are we just happy to sit back and be in awe of New Zealand? After all, who wants to kick up a fuss or make a song and war-dance out of it?

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