England fined for haka challenge as All Blacks praise 'fantastic' response

New Zealand's players perform the haka before the Rugby World Cup semi-final against England at the International Stadium Yokohama on October 26, 2019.
New Zealand's players perform the haka before the Rugby World Cup semi-final against England at the International Stadium Yokohama on October 26, 2019.
Image: BEHROUZ MEHRI / AFP

England have been fined for crossing the halfway line during New Zealand's haka after they formed a provocative V-shaped formation at last weekend's World Cup semi-final in Yokohama, tournament organisers said Wednesday.

Protocol states opponents must remain in their own half while the All Blacks perform their traditional war dance, but several England players strayed across halfway despite the efforts of officials to usher them back.

Despite the fine, New Zealand's beaten coach Steve Hansen on Wednesday praised the way England's players faced down the haka, calling it "fantastic" and insisting "the haka requires a response".

England won the blockbuster semi-final 19-7 to dethrone the two-time defending champions and will take on South Africa in Saturday's final.

As New Zealand lined up to begin the haka, England's players opted not to face the challenge shoulder-to-shoulder, as is customary, and instead lined up in an inverted V - with the two prongs arrowing towards their rivals, as if to envelop them.

At the tips of the formation, six players - Joe Marler, Billy Vunipola, Mark Wilson, Elliot Daly, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Ben Youngs - appeared to be in New Zealand's half as referee Nigel Owens tried in vain to order them back.

After the blockbuster clash, New Zealand scrumhalf Aaron Smith claimed that England captain Owen Farrell, who stood at the apex of the V, had winked at him.

Videos of Farrell and centre Manu Tuilagi smirking at the haka, while prop Kyle Sinckler rolls his eyes, have gone viral.

England's Mako Vunipola revealed that head coach Eddie Jones, one of rugby's great wind-up merchants, had come up with the idea as a ploy to "rile up" the All Blacks.

Farrell added: "We wanted not to just stand there and let them come at us."

But World Rugby said England had breached tournament rules "relating to cultural challenges, which states that no players from the team receiving the challenge may advance beyond the halfway line".

The amount of the fine was not revealed but in 2011, France were docked 2,500 pounds ($3,200) after they formed an arrowhead shape and marched towards the haka before the World Cup final in Auckland.

Hansen, meanwhile, applauded the actions of the English players.

"I thought their response was fantastic," he said.

"They didn't get fined for responding to the haka - they got fined for coming over halfway.

"Joe (Marler) didn't go back when he was told two or three times. The haka requires a response. It's a challenge to you, personally, and it requires a response. I thought it was brilliant and quite imaginative, too."

Marler continued to remonstrate with Owens as he left the pitch to take his place on the bench.

After the haka, England dominated the early skirmishes in Yokohama, with Tuilagi crashing over for the opening try after just 96 seconds - setting the All Blacks on their way to their first World Cup defeat in 12 years.

However, New Zealand's players and coaches dismissed the significance of the haka challenge, while Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus said: "I don't think it was disrespectful ... I wouldn't make a big issue about it, but it's not for me to decide."

World Rugby's decision to fine England opens the governing body to accusations of hypocrisy, however, after trumpeting England's response to the haka with a video post that was widely viewed online.

The clip on World Rugby's YouTube channel, entitled "England's incredible response to intense New Zealand haka", has racked up more than four million views.

- AFP

 

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