The captain of a South African rugby team that performed a controversial All Blacks haka prior to a match says the haka is part of their team's culture.
Walter Sisulu University, nicknamed the All Blacks, performed their rendition of the All Blacks haka Kapa O Pango in the opening match of the Varsity Shield against the the Durban University of Technology, with the video since going viral and sparking outrage online.
Many fans on social media accused the team of cultural appropriation, saying that the haka belongs to New Zealand and Māori culture.
Some even called the WSU's version of the haka "disrespectful" and "an insult to Māori people of NZ".
Following the backlash, WSU captain Litha Nkula explained why the team performs the All Blacks haka before matches and that it stems from an admiration of the All Blacks' brand of rugby.
"When I arrived at WSU, our late coach Sipho Metula told us stories about how this team got to mobilise and use New Zealand rugby players as icons within the team," Nkula told varsitycup.co.za.
"The players wanted to bring in the haka because they admired the way the All Blacks play … The players took the initiative to try and understand why the All Blacks do it.
"We chose the haka because of the style of rugby that we play. We hold ourselves to the standard of New Zealand rugby, we want to play like them. The haka entertains us but also brings that seriousness before a game.
"It has become part of our culture. We explain to new players that come in why it is done and how it influences us as a team. That's why we feel that we can't play without it; it's part of our team culture, even though we adopted it from New Zealand."
Nkula says the team meant no disrespect to the All Blacks.
"We're doing it in a respectful manner and trying to bring confidence to our players. We would have done something else but because of the way that it has influenced us as a team, it's not something we want to change.
"We do listen to what people out there say, but we don't see ourselves stopping the haka unless New Zealand says it's disrespectful."
A New Zealand Rugby spokesperson told the Herald that it has no issue with the team's imitation of the haka and its intellectual property, as it was performed with respect and understanding.