England have called for the Twickenham crowd to drown out the noise of the haka as players and coaches hinted at a special response to it on Sunday.
Forwards coach Richard Cockerill told supporters to “bring it on” and described teams’ inability to confront the haka due to regulations as “sterile”.
Cockerill famously stared down the haka playing for England in 1997, going nose to nose with New Zealand’s Norm Hewitt, and wants the current England side to be motivated facing it rather than scared, just as he was as a player.
England notably deployed a V-formation when facing the haka ahead of their 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final, before going on to defeat New Zealand in the most recent meeting between the two sides.
“It’s a home game and we want a partisan crowd who are on our side. If they can drown out the noise of them doing the haka then let’s bring it on,” Cockerill said.
“Personally when I’ve faced it it’s been more of a motivator than a demotivator, It doesn’t make me scared, It makes me more motivated. You have to use that.
“A lot of our guys will have played against New Zealand before so they have seen it. There’ll be guys out here for the first time against the All Blacks. Part of that is facing the haka. It’s part of the game. We respect their team and their culture. Conversely they have to respect what other teams do against it. It’s good, let’s enjoy it. We should have a smile on our face and then get into it.”
Regulations from World Rugby dictate that both sides must remain behind their respective 10-metre lines during the haka, a position which Cockerill objected to when asked on Saturday about responding to New Zealand’s challenge, while adding that teams should be able to confront the haka however they choose.
“I’m not sure if I was able to go past the halfway line. No one told me that. I think it’s become a little bit sterile and people make too much of it when people do different things towards the haka, in their own way. I think that’s overplayed. They’re allowed to do what they want to do and the opposition should be allowed to do what they want to do. That’s just my opinion,” Cockerill explained.
“Is it a challenge or not a challenge? We’ll respect it how we want to respect it. It’s a psychological advantage for them and we will deal with it how we feel the right way is to deal with it. I have no regrets over what I did and I think it’s a sign of respect of the Maori culture. We’ll deal with it how we see fit. It’s great theatre and it will be part of a big day.”
Kyle Sinckler, the England tighthead, was part of the side who defeated New Zealand in that World Cup semi-final and recalled watching the haka while growing up.
“Genuinely it is a massive honour. It’s a part of rugby and it is something that, when I was a kid, I would watch. You’d see the likes of Keven Mealamu, Ma’a Nonu, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, all those guys leading the Haka, Jerry Collins. It gets your juices flowing. For me it is a massive honour, it kind of just gets you buzzing and ready for the game.” Asked whether England had something similar planned to confront the haka, Sinckler merely smiled, adding: “You’ll have to wait and see.”
New Zealand were in poor form earlier this year, losing a home series to a northern hemisphere side for the first time this summer against Ireland, but have since won the Rugby Championship and been victorious in their last six Tests, including recent wins over Wales and Scotland.
“We’ll treat them with huge respect but not too much respect, we need to make sure we take our game to them, we go at them and we make sure that we impose ourselves,” Cockerill added.
“Players will deal with [the haka] how they see fit. Ultimately it’s what we do after the haka that’s the most important thing. We can all stand up to the haka. We can’t all do what happens next for the next 80 minutes.”
England rebounded from the one-point loss to Argentina by comfortably defeating an under-par Japan side last weekend. Likening the autumn schedule to a mini Rugby World Cup, with world champions South Africa coming to Twickenham next weekend, Cockerill added that the next two games would provide the coaching staff with plenty of insight.
“We have got two big games in two weeks effectively mirroring what happened in 2019. We are learning all the time,” Cockerill explained.
“This team is starting to come together. We have got some guys missing who will be coming back into the Six Nations leading into the World Cup so all this is really good experience for guys and bringing this team together as a collective but also in isolation tomorrow at half past five we want to win and that is the only thing that matters tomorrow.”