Irish writer's song and dance over All Blacks' haka is nothing new

12:32 pm on 4 October 2019

By Jeremy Hapeta*

Opinion - It would just not be a Rugby World Cup (RWC) without a song and dance, quite literally, being made about the Haka ritual performed by the All Blacks just before kick-off.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 17:  Kieran Read of the All Blacks performs the Haka with team mates during The Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australian Wallabies at Eden Park on August 17, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo: POOL)

The 'ban the haka' marketing strategy has been used by media to sell newspapers and advertising many times before. Photo: POOL / Photosport NZ

This was almost inevitable given there was a 10-day hiatus between an All Blacks' pool game. The world media appeared to get bored with the waiting game and needed a 'quick fix', so they seem to play the 'haka' card to generate headlines.

Historically, this marketing strategy used by media to (re)create stories in order to sell newspapers and advertising has been played out before.

The attempt to 'saturate' a brand occurs when a specific market is no longer providing new demand for that product or brand (for example, the All Blacks). Often, when a product either faces fierce competition, or in this case has a reduction in the market's demand for its brand, the saturation strategy appears.

This type of tactic is not atypical of what we witnessed last week with Irish writer Ewan MacKenna's "ignorant" commentary. Indeed, one does not need to go back too far in RWC history to find such 'haka tampering' strategies being employed by the Irish or the English.

Did they not learn their lessons from the 2015 tournament?

At the last RWC - hosted by 'mother' England - there was the 'Hakarena' marketing campaign which, led by former English player and 2003 RWC champion Matt Dawson mocked one of our national taonga (a treasured, cultural, artefact).

Eventually, the English team ultimately paid the price for messing with the mana and the mauri of the haka. Despite playing hosts to that RWC tournament, they failed to make it out of pool play.

Then, for the same tournament we saw major RWC sponsor Heineken poorly execute a Fight or Flight haka challenge out of a Dublin bottle store. (Coincidently, World Rugby's headquarters is based in Dublin, Ireland.)

This attempt to saturate their product by aligning it with the haka ritual asked 'shoppers' to respond to a generic haka (not Ka Mate) but all returned the gesture with various performances of the Ngati Toa haka, originally composed by rangatira (chief) Te Rauparaha. Interestingly, Ireland, who qualified top of their pool, went on to lose to Argentina in their quarter-final match.

More recently, former All Blacks' captain Wayne 'Buck' Shelford (credited for restoring the mana and mauri of the haka) was brought out of retirement and off the bench to weigh in on the matter.

"The haka is about our mana to go into battle but more to the point, it is [also] about total respect for the opposition," Shelford said.

He also responded to the claim that it gives the All Blacks an apparent 'unfair' advantage by initiating a counter-attack.

"I have never heard any nation say anything about Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga's challenge... [is it] because those teams don't normally win their excursions to, say, the UK and Europe."

This raises a pertinent point. Why is it that people only seem to complain about the most recognised brand in world rugby?

Is it because we win more often than others, or does it have something to do with the appeal and appetite for brand All Blacks?

I fear that Ewan MacKenna has not done Woodville-local Joe Schmidt and his green machine any favours for this RWC campaign.

As Steve Hansen once famously said after going 'back-to-back' in 2011 and 2015: "You can make a mistake once, maybe even twice, but after that you've got to give yourself an uppercut".

*Jeremy Hapeta's PhD research investigated the inclusion of ethnicity and 'ethno-culture' (specifically related to Māori) when developing 'team culture' and the impact of these inclusive or exclusionary practices on wellbeing for players, coaches and Rugby administrators.