The England forwards coach, Richard Cockerill, has called on the Twickenham crowd to drown out New Zealand’s haka on Saturday, saying opponents should be allowed to combat the Māori challenge however they want.
Cockerill confronted the haka in 1997 when he squared up to his opposite number Norm Hewitt at Old Trafford, while England lined up in a V-shape formation before their 2019 World Cup semi-final win over the All Blacks in Yokohama. England were fined by World Rugby as a result because some players overstepped the halfway line and France suffered the same fate after a similar response in 2011.
After the 2019 semi-final, the England prop Mako Vunipola said “we knew it would rile them up” and while the current squad have stayed tight-lipped over any plans they have for Saturday, Cockerill believes restrictions around what can be done diminishes from the “theatre”. He also urged the crowd to play their part in negating what he perceives as an advantage for the All Blacks. “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,” said Cockerill.
“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. They’re allowed to do what they want to do and the opposition should be allowed to do what they want to do.
“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 for Māori culture. We’ll deal with it how we see fit. It’s great theatre and it will be part of a big day.”
Cockerill did, however, hammer home the importance of backing up any response to the haka with a performance as England seek a first home win over the All Blacks in a decade. “Ultimately, it’s what we do after the haka that’s the most important thing,” he added. “We can all stand up to the haka. We can’t all do what happens next for the next 80 minutes. The most important part is making sure we’re focused for the first kick-off.
“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. 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.”