Later this month the rugby union World Cup takes place in New Zealand and hosts are the favourites to win the biggest sporting event of the year.
The All Blacks are the best team in the world and home advantage should compensate for a tendency to lose form come tournament time.
They also enjoy a powerful but contentious psychological boost just before kick-off of every game.
For over a hundred years the All Blacks have used the haka to mentally and physically prepare for the contest, stir the crowd and unsettle the opposition.
The pre-match ritual features much gurning, arm-waving and stamping of feet. In 2005 a specific haka was written for the All Blacks. The Kapa O Pongo is performed before special Test matches and features even more posturing than the traditional Ka Mate.
Whichever version they use the Kiwis claim it is a post-colonial statement of national identity, a show of respect for heritage and ancestors and the laying down of a challenge.
All very worthy and cultural but this is sport and the only reason for performing the haka is to intimidate.
As Te Keepa Stirling, a Maori protocol advisor and haka expert, says,
“It is to scare you, to put you off your game.”
All the top teams recognize it gives the All Blacks an advantage and, with mixed results have, tried to silence the sabre-rattling.
The first team to refuse to stand and take it was Willie Anderson’s Ireland in 1989. They linked arms, formed a wedge and inched their way towards the All Blacks as they performed their dance routine (Ireland lost 23-6).
South Africa captain Francois Pienaar, with his team just behind him, stood close enough to yank a protruding All Black tongue before the 1995 World Cup Final at Ellis Park. (South Africa won 15-12).
Former Australia winger David Campese used to perform a one man protest by taking himself off to practise in his own goal area and your correspondent was at Old Trafford in 1997 when England hooker Richard Cockerill went nose to nose with Norm Hewitt during the haka (England lost 25-8 and Cockerill was reprimanded).
But it is Wales who have given the All Blacks and the haka the hardest time.
In 2005 the Welsh Rugby Union wanted to play the Welsh national anthem after the haka (as they had done the previous year) but the All Blacks refused, threw a tantrum and performed their party piece in the privacy of the dressing room.
Three years later the Welsh players stood staring at the All Blacks for a full two minutes after the haka had finished. Despite the referee ordering the Welsh to break away and start the game no-one moved. (Wales put in a strong first half performance before losing 28-9).
After the game All Black centre Ma’a Nonu was miffed,
“People back home will have been hurt by what they decided to do. Standing in the way like they did is asking for a fight. My blood pressure was pretty high but then I regained my composure.”
So the All Blacks perform the haka wherever and whenever they want AND they demand a passive response.
A year ago the International Rugby Board, keen to avoid a haka showdown at the World Cup, reminded teams of the rule that they must face the haka (and the similar pre-match rituals of Samoa, Tonga and Fjii) and remain 10 metres on their own side of the halfway line or be fined.
Oh right. Officially sanctioned intimidation.
It would be fairer to let the All Blacks do as they please at home but when playing away the host Union should have the option of doing what they like before kick off.
That way teams would be less inclined to disrespect the haka, rugby folk would still be able to enjoy the spectacle and the All Blacks would not be perceived as petulant and arrogant.