Kiwis change haka strategy after poor start

By Michael Burgess in Birmingham

The Kiwis perform the haka against England. Photosport
The Kiwis perform the haka against England. Photosport

The Kiwis are changing their strategy around the haka, after some concerns it could affect their performance at the start of test matches.

The haka remains a great tradition - and is cherished by the team and their supporters - but some questions were raised after the match against the Kangaroos in Perth three weeks ago.

After a typically impassioned haka, with Adam Blair and Issac Luke at the forefront, New Zealand struggled from the beginning of the game, barely getting their hands on the ball for the first 10 minutes.

Purely from a sports science point of view it didn't look ideal, especially aerobically.

There were players that looked like they barely took a breath for around 90 seconds during the haka, and then they were straight into the action with no recovery.

The haka is performed by other national sports teams, but the nature of league makes it more of a potential issue. It is intense, especially at the start, extremely fast paced and has the potential to go for five or 10 minutes without stopping.

To counter that situation, the Kiwis changed their approach in Huddersfield before the test against England on Sunday. After performing the haka, the team then paused for a drink before doing some brief drills for one or two minutes before the kick off.

It gave the team a chance to regain its composure, and recover physically and mentally after the energy put into the emotion-charged haka.

The All Blacks had similar concerns about the haka a few years ago.

"We're poor starters," coach Steve Hansen told the Herald before the end of year test against England in 2014. "We haven't quite got it right so maybe we are over-aroused or under-aroused."

At that point the All Blacks had conceded the first try in four of their previous six tests, each time within the first five minutes.

There is a similar pattern with the Kiwis. In the last five tests against Australia, dating back to the 2014 Four Nations, New Zealand has conceded the first try. The Kiwis won three of those games - two of them convincingly - but still took longer to click into gear than the Australians.

There can be a multitude of reasons for the Kiwis being slower out of the blocks, but the team hierarchy want to make the sure that the after effects of the haka isn't one of them.
Unlike rugby, the Kiwis haven't always performed the haka before matches. In the 1980s the haka was only seen at the end of games, used to celebrate famous wins.

Indeed the image of a bare chested - and bandaged - Hugh McGahan leading a victory haka at Lang park in 1987, after the 13-6 win over the highly favoured Kangaroos, one of the most famous upsets in New Zealand league history, is embedded on the minds of Kiwis supporters.

Autex - Proud sponsors of New Zealand rugby league since 1981

- NZ Herald

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