World Cup awaits New Zealand haka and French response
PARIS - One of the most eagerly awaited moments in the World Cup opener between New Zealand and France on Friday might come before kickoff at Stade de France when the All Blacks perform the haka.
All eyes will be on how the tournament hosts react to the traditional Maori challenge, especially given the French have provided two of the most memorable responses at previous World Cups.
The first came ahead of the 2007 quarter-final in Cardiff when the French, led by the fearsome brooding figure of Sebastien Chabal, linked arms and stood inches away from the All Blacks as they performed the ritual.
That set the tone for France's stunning 20-18 upset of the runaway tournament favourites.
The second came before the 2011 final when the French lined up in a chevron formation behind skipper Thierry Dusautoir before linking arms and advancing just across the halfway line to confront the thigh-slapping New Zealanders.
The All Blacks, again unbackable favourites, went on to win a second World Cup with a 8-7 win at Eden Park that night but only after they had withstood immense French pressure in the final quarter of the match.
The French were fined $3,000 by World Rugby for crossing the halfway line.
French expectations are higher for success in Friday's match and they might not feel the need to unruffle a New Zealand team that were thrashed by South Africa in their final warm-up match.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster said how France reacted was entirely a matter for the French.
"Historically they have some sometimes and not other times and we're at peace with that," he told reporters on the eve of the match.
"We're happy for the opposition to respond however they want to the haka. For us, it's a special part of our legacy, of who we are as a team and how we connect to each other and to the past.
"One thing I do know is that they'll respect that, because they've got a history of respecting the haka. The fact they may respond in different ways ... is not seen by us as a lack of respect."
The 'Ka Mate' haka has been associated with New Zealand rugby since the 1888 when an unofficial "Natives" team made up of Maori toured Britain.
The practice has since been adopted by sporting teams of all types and is often also performed at funerals, weddings and other major events. - REUTERS