After you, boys - the quickstep into trouble

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The Independent Online

One question was on the lips of everyone leaving this humbled stadium last night and it was not why didn't Wales win? It was why didn't New Zealand do the haka? The answer was they did ­ in the dressing room after a squabble between the Welsh Rugby Union and the New Zealand management.

At first it seemed just a petty spat until it emerged that it had resulted in ugly scenes involving a cameraman being removed from the Millennium Stadium. He had been invited into the dressing room by the All Blacks who wanted to show that they were indeed doing the haka, but the stewards had been instructed from on high not to let the cameras in.

Eventually, the cameraman was smuggled in on a player's pass but when an official saw him coming out and slipping the videotape to a colleague he ordered his eviction. Swearing ensued and the farce was complete. And to think rugby is supposed to be gentleman's game.

In short, Hakagate came to pass because Wales wanted to sing their national anthem after the haka and New Zealand insisted they did it, as they believe their tradition insists they must, before. Incredibly, the argument began six weeks ago and lasted so far up to kick-off that the Wales players were actually on the pitch waiting for the war dance.

Even the referee Dave Pearson had to ask what was going on before getting proceedings under way to a resounding boo. It was perfectly understandable. The supporters felt shortchanged, like a crowd going to see Tom Jones and not hearing "Delilah".

Inevitably, the recriminations came thick and fast afterwards. The WRU pointed the finger at the New Zealand management and the stabbing digit came back with interest. Graham Henry led the retorts. "We are talking about 100 years of tradition here," said the All Black coach. "Last year, the Welsh asked if they could sing the anthem after the haka because that is apparently what happened in 1905 and we agreed it as long as it was a one-off. But then this year they asked if they could do it again. We said 'no'. They had guaranteed us that it would never happen again."

His captain, Richie McCaw, was just as emphatic. "I can assure the fans it's a decision we didn't take lightly and although it's disappointing they did not see it on the pitch we were determined to do one anyway," he said, alluding to the cameraman's pictures which were shown momentarily on the stadium's big screen. "We'd do it in a shed if we had to. It's all about tradition and we don't feel Wales respected it."

Meanwhile, the WRU ordered the players and management to remain silent about the matter and instead sent in their new chief executive, Roger Lewis, to front up to the media. He revealed that the WRU had even consulted a Maori chief who "assured us that the haka was performed to invite a response from the opposing team".

"That was the original protocol," added Lewis. "We will take it up with the International Rugby Board, but we never intended it to detract from the rugby."

It was too late for that ­ it already had and hardly surprising. This was the first time the All Blacks have not performed the haka before a Tour game since Wayne Shelford's men introduced the much-loved custom before every match in 1987. In the intervening period they have been a few mutters from other nations about the psychological advantage the All Blacks might gain from the haka, but nothing more. Until now, that is. "Haka-red off," described it all nicely.

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