Memo IRB: show a little respect, to the French that is

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France advance on the All Blacks' haka

France advance on the All Blacks' haka (EPA/Kim Ludbrook)

You know, sports administrators get the rough end of the pineapple sometimes. There’s always a lot of criticism about how they made the wrong decision, pulled the wrong rein, got in bed with the wrong gaming conglomerate, rushed to the defence of the wrong pack rapist, etc.

They cop it from all sides.

So it’s important for us to acknowledge those times when sports administrators get it right, when they act in the best interests of the game and help advance the true spirit of sport through their common-sense decisions.

This is why I burst into spontaneous applause when I found out the International Rugby Board had decided to fine the French rugby team for advancing too far towards the haka before the World Cup final.

Finally, I thought, stuffed shirts earning their wage through decisive and righteous action.

Because if we allow opposition teams to creep up close to the All Blacks while they perform their pre-game ritual, where does it end?

Will opposition teams be allowed to make rude gestures during the New Zealand national anthem? Will sheep be released onto the field while Dan Carter lines up penalty kicks?

Will Richie McCaw suddenly be expected to adhere to the rules of the game? It’s a slippery slope indeed.

International rugby union is a fragile thing.

The slightest disturbance could knock it off its balance and see it descend into the realm of novelty sports, alongside lingerie football and horse racing. It needs to be shielded from nefarious influences, like advancing team lines.

The results could be catastrophic if the All Blacks were in any way inconvenienced while dancing. It would rend the very fabric of the international game.

For New Zealand, with all its proud rugby history, is the heartbeat of the game, and if its hardest, toughest, most powerful exponents are not allowed to do their little dances in peace, the whole edifice could come crashing down.

What if, during the French team’s heinous display of contempt, one of the All Black players had caught a glimpse of them, and lost his place in the shouting?

What if one of them had been so distracted he’d forgotten whether to slap his thigh or perform a gesture indicating he planned to murder his opponent?

he whole tournament would have become pointless. As Cyril Towers used to say: “The most important thing in rugby is not whether you win or lose, but whether your opponents are allowed to do a dance before the game without fear of annoyance”.

Would you walk up and eyeball Paul Mercurio while he was dancing? No you would not. So why would you do it to Keven Mealamu? You might make the poor little mite cry.

But look, I’m a reasonable man.

I understand it can be difficult to find a way to occupy your time while the haka is going on. That’s why the Wallabies usually take the opportunity to eat a hearty meal and get good and drunk before playing.

So I’m not just using my platform here to berate those who would harass good, decent, New Zealand dancers. I’m here to offer constructive suggestions as to better ways to spend the haka period.

Like for example:

* Bible study. To know Jesus is to know yourself – any international rugby squad could only benefit from sitting down in the in-goal and having a good natter about Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and what it says to us in the modern world.

* A singalong. As far as I know, there is no prohibition in IRB rules against on-field guitars, so why not make one member of your team designated accompanist, and boost team morale with a good old singalong? Recommended songs for playing the All Blacks include “Amazing Grace”, “For Those In Peril On The Sea”, and “Loser”.

* Hold your own dance. The Abs are dancing, why not do your own dance? Because you’ll look like a tool? Well, yes, good point.

* Arts and crafts. Don’t let your hands lie idle. Use this precious downtime to paint a picture, make some macaroni art, or construct a diorama out of toilet paper rolls and pipe-cleaners!

* Take a nice relaxing bath. A relaxed team is a happy team – while the kiwis do their thing, why not duck into the dressing rooms, light some candles, and luxuriate in some scented bubbles?

* Leave and go home. There’s probably something good on TV.

You see? This time while your opponents dance and yell doesn’t have to be wasted.

Find constructive ways to spend the lull between anthems and kick-off, and everyone can enjoy the next All Black clash, without the need for unpleasant displays of team solidarity or distressing distractions from the main event.

After all, rugby without the haka is just … well, rugby. And I hardly think that’s what the crowds at rugby games come to see.

Ben Pobjie is a writer & comedian writing on The Age, New Matilda and The Roar, whose promising rugby career was tragically cut short. The most he has ever cried was the day Balmain lost the 1989 grand final. Today he enjoys watching Wallabies, Swans, baggy greens, and Storms.
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