New Zealand captain Kieran Read has insisted England “can do what they like” in response to the Haka at Twickenham on Saturday after home coach Eddie Jones said the Spice Girls could be singing for all he cared.
The Haka, a Maori challenge, has long formed part of the pre-kick-off routine of New Zealand, the reigning world champions.
Previous England-New Zealand clashes at Twickenham have seen home fans among a capacity crowd of more than 80,000 try to drown out the Haka with a rendition of their adopted anthem of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’.
But Jones, well used to the sight and sound of the Haka in a long career that has also encompassed stints in charge of his native Australia and Japan, insisted it would be the last thing on his mind as kick-off approached.
“At that stage of the game, they could be playing the Spice Girls and I wouldn’t know what’s being played,” Jones said.
“They’re making a comeback aren’t they, the Spice Girls?,” he added of the British girl band, who first achieved chart success in the 1990s.
“Maybe they could sing at that time. It’s got no relevance to me at all,” said Jones ahead of the first England-New Zealand match in four years.
Yet for all Jones’ joking, the question of how opposition teams respond to the Haka has long been a thorny issue.
Back in 1989, Ireland captain Willie Anderson had his players link arms and advance towards the Haka — a stirring sight but one that didn’t stop New Zealand winning 23-6 in Dublin.
Two years later, prior to a World Cup semi-final, Australia great David Campese ignored the Haka completely, preferring to kick a ball behind his own posts.
The Wallabies won, before beating England in the final.
British and Irish Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll tried throwing a blade of grass in the air, symbolising the picking up of the traditional white feather, ahead of the first Test in 2005.
The All Blacks viewed that as a lack of respect and within a minute O’Driscoll’s tour was over following a controversial ‘spear’ tackle by New Zealand captain Tana Umaga.
France were even fined for their response before an agonising 8-7 loss to New Zealand in the 2011 World Cup final in Auckland.
Les Bleus were supposed to remain behind the 10-metre line in their own half, but they advanced towards the All Blacks in a ‘v-formation’ led by captain Thierry Dusautoir.
France were subsequently fined £2,500 ($3,243) for a “breach of the tournament cultural ritual protocol”.
England are unlikely to emulate Richard Cockerill, who in 1997 confronted All Black forward Norm Hewitt during a Haka at Old Trafford — a match that England lost 25-8.
When Jones’ comments were put to Read at New Zealand’s team hotel in London on Friday, he replied: “We do the Haka as a challenge but it is more about us connecting as a team.
“The opposition can do what they like. It’s part of the history of the game for us as New Zealanders.
“I certainly get a kick out of it and I’m sure the crowd does as well. Whether they sing or what, it adds to the atmosphere.
“For me it’s a great part of the game,” the No 8 added.
© Agence France-Presse (Additional Edits by Oisin McQueirns)