The haka remains 'very sacred and very special' according to the All Blacks

Ireland unforgettably faced the All Blacks in the figure of eight in 2016 in Chicago.

IT’S DIFFICULT TO fathom but yesterday marked three years since the passing of Anthony Foley.

The Munster and Ireland legend is gone but certainly not forgotten.

With Ireland building up to a clash with New Zealand in the World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday, it’s difficult not to think back to November 2016 when Joe Schmidt’s side stood in the figure of eight to face the Kiwis’ haka. 

ireland-team-face-the-haka-in-a-shape-of-eight-in-memory-of-anthony-foley-of-munster Ireland face the haka in 2016 in Chicago. INPHO / Billy Stickland INPHO / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

For those lucky enough to be in the stadium, it was a goosebump-inducing moment that was laden with emotion, the Munster players standing front and centre as Ireland paid tribute to their late and great friend before beating the All Blacks for the first time ever.

The figure of eight is unlikely to be repeated ever again but two years later in Dublin, Ireland faced the haka and made a point of stepping towards it to underline their acceptance of the challenge. Again, Ireland went on to win.

It would be something of a surprise if Schmidt’s side do anything other than stand and observe the haka on Saturday but the All Blacks’ pre-match ritual has, unsurprisingly, been a talking point again in the build-up to this World Cup quarter-final.

Some find the haka awe-inspiring, some enjoy it without overthinking things, others are completely disinterested, while some actively dislike and protest against the haka.

As for the teams who have to wait while the New Zealanders perform it, the vast majority tend to stand to attention and watch on respectfully.

“I think most teams now show their respect to it,” said Ireland assistant coach Greg Feek, who is a former All Black when asked what Ireland have planned for this time around.

“And everyone understands what it’s about and the tribute that it is, that there is a deeper meaning to it for the New Zealanders.

“For us, now that we’ve got all our preparations in terms of the game to a certain point, those are the sorts of conversations that will take place amongst the senior boys over the next 24 hours, and we’ll have a look at that a bit more to see what best fits the team first.

“The boys won’t get too distracted in terms of doing what they do on their pre-game rituals and things, but at the end of the day, the key is that those last few minutes before the game begins are not too distracting.”

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Feek knows plenty about the haka, having led it against Ireland in 2001 in Dublin.

“At the time, you’re extremely proud, a little emotional, and you ask yourself, ‘How did I end up doing this,’” said Feek of that honour.

“But then you just embrace it and you get the boys around you to support you. It’s just like playing rugby in that you just represent something like that as best you can with the utmost respect.

“If I had been a bit more mature, I would have done it a bit better! I might have done it a bit fast at the time, but apart from that it’s a privilege.”

While many supporters and pundits will continue to argue that the haka shouldn’t be allowed or is meaningless, it still appears to mean a considerable deal to the players who perform it.

The haka was a topic of conversation at the All Blacks’ team announcement in Tokyo today, where some of their players argued its value.

“I guess each to their own,” said out-half Richie Mo’unga. “The haka is very sacred for us. It energises us and it’s not something that the All Blacks have come up with, it’s something our ancestors have done before us.

“As Kiwis, as Maoris in our team, it’s something that’s very special so we’ll continue to keep doing the haka and people can take different things from it.

“For us, it connects us together as a team and respects those who have gone before us.”

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