Wallabies captain James Slipper has defended his team’s response to the All Blacks haka in Melbourne and says the players forming a boomerang shape is in recognition of Australia’s first nation peoples.
The buildup to Saturday’s Rugby Championship test at Eden Park took a dramatic twist on Thursday when Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said Rieko Ioane was mouthing off at Folau Fainga’a around disrespecting the haka after the final try at Marvel Stadium that clinched a 39-37 New Zealand victory.
However, All Blacks skipper Sam Whitelock clarified on Friday that he took no disrespect from the Wallabies’ boomerang formation, nor from them walking forward to directly challenge the haka.
Rennie explained the team line up in that manner to accept the challenge and, speaking before the Wallabies’ captain’s run on Friday, Slipper went into more detail about the boomerang formation.
“We respect the haka, we respect the All Blacks team,” Slipper said. “In every game we come up against New Zealand, we know it’s going to be a tough outing and you’ve got to pay your respect to that.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie says All Blacks centre Rieko Ioane accused the hosts of being disrespectful to the haka in Melbourne.
“Historically they’re a successful team and nation in rugby. They’ve won the Bledisloe for the past 20 years, so we do respect them. We’re just accepting the challenge.”
Slipper said the Wallabies have been doing the boomerang since Rennie became Wallabies coach in 2019 and it had become the team’s unique way of accepting the challenge.
“We talk as a team, but he initiated the boomerang and all of us boys really want to involve the indigenous culture within our nation,” he said.
“We find that’s really important. We play in the indigenous jersey a few times now each year and that’s something we’re really proud of.
“So it’s a taste of our nation, our way of accepting the challenge.”
Rennie said on Thursday he expected the team would line up in a boomerang shape again on Saturday night, and Slipper confirmed they would also look at it against Pacific Island nations such as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga who perform their own challenges before tests.
Whitelock, who has assumed the All Blacks’ leadership from the injured Sam Cane, was asked whether he felt the haka was disrespected at his captain’s run standup on Friday.
“Not at all,” he said. “They’re obviously doing something they want to do, to show they’re together as a country. Everyone knows the boomerang comes from Australia, so for them that’s cool.”
Asked by Stuff is there was any disrespect taken by a team advancing on the haka, in whatever formation, Whitelock added: “For myself no. I do the haka for the team with me … they can do whatever they want. If they want to do something that makes them feel connected then that’s great, and it probably adds to the occasion.”
In terms of Rennie’s accusation around Ioane, the All Blacks centre, Whitelock said he felt there was nothing major in it.
“On the field everyone is pretty fired up, wanting to get stuck into each other,” he said. “Sometimes the tensions do go a little high. The reality is we’re moving forward and worrying about this week.
There has been plenty of spice in the leadup to the test after the controversial end at Marvel Stadium, when French referee Mathieu Raynal took a relieving penalty away from the Wallabies in the 79th minute for time-wasting, allowing the All Blacks to launch their winning score.
The haka debate has added further fuel to the fire, but Slipper didn’t have a problem with that.
“Every time you pull on the Wallabies jersey it’s a proud moment for us players. But to play against the All Blacks, we love it. There’s plenty riding on this – we haven’t won here since the ‘80s,” he added.
Although the Wallabies were gutted to lose in Melbourne in the manner they did, it was still an impressive performance to come back from 31-13 down into the final quarter.
“We’ve spoken about the character we showed in the second half. We were down to 13 for a while and that’s when the ABs piled on the points,” said Slipper.
“It’s hard enough to play against [them] with 15 players, so we did well to get our noses in front there in the end. It was just a tough way to lose, but I’m extremely proud of the way the boys turned up. What we’re after is another performance like that.”