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No Haka turned up the heat - Collins

Photosport

NZPA     26 Nov 2006     Photosport

New Zealand's 45-10 victory was somewhat overshadowed by the players' decision to perform the Ka Mate haka in their dressing room, directed to the team's non-players and management rather than before an expectant crowd of 74,000 at the Millennium Stadium.

It was in response to a stalemate between the Welsh and New Zealand rugby unions over the pre-kickoff protocol.

Historians were left struggling to recall the last time an All Blacks haka hadn't been publicly performed ahead of an overseas test and sections of the crowd vented their displeasure at being denied one of rugby's most famous traditions.

Collins, one of the All Blacks' best performers, hoped the crowd and supporters at home could understand why they had dug their toes in over the issue.

The team placed huge importance on the haka, its meaning and tradition -- one of which is that it is the last act before any Test kicks off.

Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) chief executive Roger Lewis wanted the haka to follow the New Zealand national anthem but to precede the Welsh anthem, as had happened before last year's test.

However, the All Blacks only agreed to the switch last year because it marked the centenary of Wales-New Zealand Tests.

Then-captain Tana Umaga said afterwards that the All Blacks wouldn't comply in that way for at least another 100 years and the NZRU was adamant tonight that it received a guarantee from the WRU that no such request would be made again.

The NZRU was therefore shocked when it received the pre-test protocol on October 16.

Having denied the crowd and viewing audience once, Collins said it placed enormous pressure on the All Blacks not to let them down a second time with a substandard performance.

"The biggest thing you're conscious of is that if you make a decision like that, you've got to back it up on the field, where it counts.

"I thought we did that pretty well."

A New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) power trio comprising chairman Jock Hobbs, chief executive Chris Moller and president John Graham gave the All Blacks the all clear not to perform the haka on the field after discussions with Lewis reached an impasse.

Both unions had remained in discussion for the six weeks leading up to tonight, with the All Blacks players finalising their course of action soon before they left their hotel for the ground.

Lewis remained adamant the WRU was correct to ask for a chance to "respond" to the haka, as he understood Maori custom dictated.

He said the WRU had liaised with two kaumatua -- Victoria University professor Piri Sciascia and New Zealand Olympic Committee cultural attache Amster Reedy -- who had both confirmed Wales' right to respond.

"As protectors of our land and as Maori tradition states, we had the opportunity to respond and we wanted to respond with Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the Welsh national anthem," Lewis said.

All Blacks winger Rico Gear, who has previously led the haka and has a sound background in its cultural significance, said the WRU had made some reasonable points.

"Yeah, but everything that the Welsh wanted was all in their favour," Gear said, agreeing to a suggestion that the crowd here adopt a method similar to the Australian crowd's singing of Waltzing Matilda as an "impromptu" rather than official response to the haka.

However, Lewis said he would be taking the matter further, seeking clarification from the International Rugby Board about what was and wasn't allowed prior to kickoff.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry didn't want to detract from his team's wining performance by discussing the non-haka issue at length.

However, he said the public came a long way down the list when it came to the haka.

"It's about the players really. It's not done for the fans, it's not done for the crowd, it's done for New Zealand rugby and the players themselves," Henry said.

"They didn't want to change what had been done for a long time.

"We discussed it. We had a guarantee last year that it would done before kickoff and that changed."

All Black lock Ali Williams summed up the angry mood among his teammates as they ran onto the field tonight.

"It was a bit more coal chucked on the fire I suppose," he said.

"We got what we wanted out of the haka in our changing room. It was funny but we got it done."