Rugby

England fined for encroaching on All Blacks' haka

AFP-JIJI

England has been fined for crossing the halfway line during New Zealand’s haka after players made a provocative V-shaped formation before last weekend’s Rugby World Cup semifinal in Yokohama, tournament organizers 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 the line despite the efforts of officials to usher them back.

Despite the fine, New Zealand 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 semifinal 19-7, dethroning the two-time defending champion, 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 pointing towards the All Blacks, 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 center 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 was docked £2,500 ($3,200) after its players 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.

England dominated the early skirmishes in Yokohama, with Tuilagi crashing over for the opening try after just 96 seconds — setting the English off on its way to handing the All Blacks 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 4 million views.

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