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Ka Mate! Zinzan Brooke's guide to the Haka

One of the all-time New Zealand greats talks us through the All Blacks’ fearsome pre-match ritual.

ONE OF THE most iconic spectacles in all of rugby, the All Blacks’ traditional pre-match Haka will take on even greater significance over the next six weeks as New Zealand host (and very possibly win) the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

But when you look past the menacing gestures and the fearsome calls, what is it all about?

There’s only one way to find out. So, TheScore caught up with legendary All Blacks number eight Zinzan Brooke who talked us through the team’s inimitable pre-match ritual.

The first time

Brooke made 58 appearances for the All Blacks over the course of a 10-year career, but few were as memorable as his first — the final pool game of the 1987 Rugby World Cup against Argentina in Wellington.

As the only Maori player in the starting XV, the honour of leading the Haka fell to the youngster.

“I led the Haka on my debut, and I just about peed my pants. It was really difficult, I was just worried about my game.

“If you do the Haka, the game should look after itself. But having to lead it as a 21-year-old, it’s a bit daunting and a bit scary.”

© Mike Brett/Mike Brett/Press Association Images

The action

Ka Mate, the traditional Haka used by the All Blacks, derives from a tribal Maori war dance. It is led by one player, who opens the chant by calling his team-mates to action before they join him in chorus.

“You make sure you get your calls right because you’re the leader of the Haka, so they’re all following you.

“You’re in your own zone. It takes you over. It’s both a personal thing and directed towards your opponents, but it’s only at the start that you’re actually eyeballing the opposition.

“It’s amazing how people can’t look at you or can’t stare you out, whether it’s out of fear or because they don’t want to.”

© Tertius Pickard/AP/Press Association Images

The mind

Ask Brooke what his most memorable Haka was and he is quick to mention Ellis Park in 1995, the World Cup final against South Africa.

With Nelson Mandela among the 63,000 spectators and millions watching on television around the world, was it difficult to keep focus on both the biggest game of his career and the task of leading the Haka?

"I never felt it was a distraction, not at all. It’s all about getting in the zone.

"All your preparation has been done. That’s the weird thing about it. You’ve trained your whole life for that one particular moment and the easy part is actually playing the game.

"It gives you an emotional edge. You power yourself up."

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Pic: INPHO/Photosport

The response

Once the All Blacks have completed their Haka, it is not unusual for their opponents to respond to the challenge in an attempt to show that they have not been intimidated.

Some have simply refused to break their stare until the All Blacks blink first, while others have slowly advanced into the New Zealand half until there is only a hair's breadth between them and the front line of the Haka.

But how does the opposition's response affect the All Blacks?

"It’s just amazing, the whole mental psychology of how do you actually deal with the Haka.

"Challenging the Haka is exactly the right thing to do. There’s nothing wrong with being challenged -- Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, they all do their own dance.

"I think one of the greatest things that I experienced was Munster against the All Blacks [in 2008, pictured below].

"Three of the Munster men [Rua Tipoki, Doug Howlett and Lifeimi Mafi] stepped up and did the Haka and the rest of the Munster guys stood behind in and supported them. That was brilliant. That’s what you want to do."

Pic: INPHO/Billy Stickland

The respect

However, there have often been accusations of "disrespectful" responses to the Haka, not least after Lions captain Brian O'Driscoll symbolically threw a piece of grass into the air in 2005, or when English hooker Richard Cockerill (pictured below) went toe-to-toe with Norm Hewitt in Old Trafford in 1997.

"There’s no danger of disrespect," says Brooke.

But what about in Wellington in 1996, when Australia famously turned their backs on the Haka to do some warm-up drills?

"We beat them 43-6 that day [a record score between the two nations]. The key component is how you respond."

Indeed.

Pic: John Giles/PA Archive/Press Association Images

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Niall Kelly

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