We need an answer to the Haka. English rugby knows it. Australians know it. Don’t worry. I’m working on one – it’s called the ‘Yakka’.
Who isn’t sick of seeing teams reduced to little more than meek spectators while Kiwi adversaries unleash a belligerent war dance? One version of the traditional Maori challenge, the Kapa o Pango, even includes a throat-slitting gesture that more or less says ‘I’m gonna rip your fucking head off!’ I’m sure I’m not the only one who believes the Haka demands a crisp retort; a backhander of sorts.
Yet on most occasions, opposition teams simply watch as their lives are openly threatened and tongues are poked in their general direction. In fairness, Aussies often link arms and kind of death-stare the Haka-ing horde. Occasionally teams will try out new ways to look extra defiant in the face of the Haka – like the English rugby team did during the World Cup semi-final – only to be fined by the IRB for breaching rules ‘relating to cultural challenges’. England’s crime? A couple of players set foot over the halfway line. So lame.
Back in 2014 the Junior Kangaroos went full bore and gave the aggro right back to their Kiwi under-20s rivals. Properly. As the New Zealanders launched into their Haka at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium, the Jr ’Roos marched in a snarling gang right up into the grilles of the gesticulating locals. It almost ended in biffo.
In a textbook display of irony, NZRL president Howie Tamati whined that the Aussies had been ‘disrespectful’. The Haka, he said, is an expression of cultural pride, “…not a situation where you’re looking to fight.”
Bullshit, Howie. When performed before a rugby league/rugby union test, the Haka is a naked threat to kick someone’s arse. It’s demonstrably aggressive and undeniably designed to intimidate. Should New Zealand teams truly wish to imbue proceedings with feel-good cultural vibes, they could perform the Hongi instead. Better known as the ‘Maori kiss’, where noses and foreheads are gently pressed together, the Hongi is culturally akin to a respectful handshake.
But nooo, Kiwis love to get all scary with the Haka. So…let’s give ’em the Yakka.
Where to Start?
Admittedly our past efforts to rev up pre-match pride have been pretty flaccid. Once upon a time the best we could muster was having serial national anthem singer Julie Anthony sing the national anthem. Yawn.
Then for a while the Australian Rugby Union trotted out John Williamson to warble Waltzing Matilda. It’s essentially a song about a derro who drowns himself in a billabong rather than face the music for stealing. Few would claim the ‘jolly’ swagman as an inspiration for blokes aiming for sporting glory. Waltzing Matilda? FFS!
To be Yakka material I believe a song needs to be aggressive and defiant but also speak of unity and a common goal. Crucially, it must be steeped in the Australian spirit (or in this case Australian spirits: beer and cask wine). For such an anthem, look no further than Rose Tattoo’s pub-rock classic, We Can’t Be Beaten. Check it out:
Shoulder to shoulder, we’re gonna stand,
We’re gonna fight to the very last man,
Can’t be defeated, don’t know the word,
Shoulder to shoulder, we’ll fight the world,
(Insert thuggish guitar riff here.)
We can’t be beaten,
What’ll we tell ’em boys?
We can’t be beaten …
Tell me, am I right?
Now with the fanfare sorted all the Yakka needs is a war dance. I’m in favour of a choreographed set of complex mimes where players demonstrate the gruesome fate that awaits their opponents; swinging arms, chicken-wing tackles, flying knees to the kidneys, eye gouging, head stomping – you name it, just as long as it puts the Haka into perspective.
With pyrotechnics now popular at footy matches I see no reason not to incorporate special effects into the Yakka. Players could be rigged to have fake blood squirt out of FX ‘wounds’ as their teammates simulate rucking their heads or cracking them across the mouth with a forearm.
I haven’t spoken to Rose Tattoo yet but I believe there’s scope for them to set up on a flat-bed truck to be driven out behind the players and belt out We Can’t Be Beaten as the Yakka is performed. Then – with the Haka more than matched – the players would lift, the fans would go crazy and I daresay Rosie Tatts would welcome a resurgence in royalties and album sales. It’d be a win, win, win!
The Yakka might sound far-fetched, but as a young nation we can absolutely make up our culture as we go. There’s room for an Australian sporting battle cry, just as there was room for Advance Australia Fair to slot in as our national anthem in 1984. Up until then, we sang God Save The Queen before kick-off. We should have been singing We Are The Champions by Queen.