The scoreline suggests an emphatic victory but the truth is Wales lost last weekend’s encounter with New Zealand just as the final bars of the home anthem were reverberating around the Millennium Stadium.
It is at that point, traditionally, that the New Zealanders form a semi-circle to perform their customary challenge to the opposition.
Only on Saturday, there was no sign of the haka. Even the referee looked slightly bemused and as he sought clarification and then called for the match to start Wales had lost – it had lost the psychological edge it had been seeking to gain, lost the match and lost the PR battle too.
Wales stumbled to a 45-10 defeat against one of the finest rugby teams that has played the game. This is no misguided hyperbole, the current crop of Kiwis is without doubt the finest squad to have played the game. The humbling truth for the rest of the rugby-playing nations is the best two teams around at the moment are New Zealand and New Zealand’s second-string.
As a result, opponents are looking for any chink in the armour. The run-up to all of the matches involving New Zealand this last month has been characterised by less than subtle digs at the Kiwis’ “professionalism”. This reached a peak before the Welsh match when the Wales second-row Ian Gough praised New Zealand for the “honest cheating” the side continues to get away with and suggesting his team should try and employ similar sneakily underhand tactics.
There have also been several attempts of late to dilute the impact of the haka. All have ended in failure.
The haka does give New Zealand an advantage but surely the world of rugby must learn a big lesson from last Saturday’s sorry state of affairs. Meddle with the haka in any way, disrespect the ancient challenge and suffer the consequences.
If the New Zealanders needed any further motivation against Wales then the decision to prevent them from staging the haka after the anthems was the perfect preparation.
The Welsh Rugby Union has sought to explain that it requested a change in the order of the pre-match ritual a month ago. The plan was for the New Zealand anthem to be played, then the haka to be performed and finally Wales would respond to the challenge with its own rousing anthem.
The WRU says it heard nothing until the morning of the match that New Zealand responded and insisted on the haka following both anthems. So what?
The WRU is well aware that the only way it will get New Zealand to accept such a change is by persuading the International Rugby Board to order the Kiwis to do it. But the IRB will face fierce lobbying from the Kiwis to prevent such a change and New Zealand is likely to get support from almost every rugby fan in the world, albeit grudgingly in many cases.
The haka is a psychological weapon, but it is also one of rugby’s true remaining spectacles.
The argument is that it provides New Zealand with an unfair advantage. But why shouldn’t it fire opposition players as much as it obviously fires the Kiwis themselves?
Former Irish captain Keith Wood, one of the fiercest competitors to play the game, stated at the weekend that he actually looked forward to facing the haka. Watching the intensity on the faces of the Kiwis told him he was in for a battle, it warned him he needed to give 100% every second he was on the pitch, he also ensured it provided as much inspiration to his own players as it clearly does to New Zealand’s.
Surely the best way to respond to the challenge of the haka, to match the intensity of the players who perform it before kick-off, is to face up to it and draw inspiration from it?
Dismissing the ritual, disrespecting the tradition, as Wales effectively did on Saturday, is merely shooting yourself in the foot.
Trying to justify such a crass and misguided decision afterwards is just as pointless, another dumb self-inflicted wound to ensure your side has lost any hope of gaining any advantage.
It is doubtful that the hierarchy of the WRU will realise, or even want to acknowledge, that the booing and jeering that filled the stadium when it was clear the haka was not going to be performed was aimed firmly at them.
Equally, it is an unpalatable truth for the WRU that Wales was comprehensively outplayed, out-thought, out-muscled both on the pitch and off it too.
A New Zealand newspaper columnists caused controversy in Wales last week by branding the Principality the “village idiots” of the rugby playing world. Indeed, such was the furore that New Zealand’s coach Graham Henry – a former coach of Wales let it not be forgotten – felt the need to issue an apology.
However, despite all the self-righteous indignation of many of my fellow Welshmen and women, the WRU merely proved the columnist’s point by banning the haka.
As a Welsh rugby fan, I can come up with a few flashes of one-eyed blind optimism from Saturday’s defeat and where it puts my team in the world order.
But as a rugby fan, I can find absolutely no way of defending the WRU’s decision to ban the haka and hand New Zealand victory even before the first ball is kicked.