Mako Vunipola Rugby World Cup: The inside story of how England faced down the All Blacks haka

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SPARK SPORT

England’s players form a V around the All Blacks’ haka ahead of their Rugby World Cup semifinal in Yokohama.

Gavin Mairs on the inside story of how England faced down the haka … and how they went on to dominate the All Blacks in every phase of play.

The V sign

Many teams have tried a defiant response to the haka but few have reaped any rewards – usually, such acts of defiance serve only to antagonise the All Blacks and is the prelude to a slaughter. England’s response, however, was different – not only was it intimidating in its own right, but it was backed up by a display to match.

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The idea for England to arrange themselves in a V-formation, with Owen Farrell at its deepest point in the middle and Joe Marler and Billy Vunipola at the far tips of either flank, came – inevitably – from Eddie Jones.

“Eddie gave us the idea,” said Mako Vunipola. “We wanted to be respectful but we wanted to also make sure that they understood that we would be ready for the fight.”

Mako Vunipola Referee Nigel Owens tries to move the England team back as they face the haka.

David Rogers

Referee Nigel Owens tries to move the England team back as they face the haka.

THE REFUSAL TO MOVE

Referee Nigel Owens and assistant Pascal Gauzere ask the England players to move back beyond the halfway line. Billy Vunipola and Luke Cowan-Dickie all refuse, as does Marler on the other side of the V. “Joe said he got confused!” Mako Vunipola said. “He thought he was supposed to go all the way around them [in a circle] and go to their 10-metre line. Because of that, he’s the one who has to pay the fine. He dishes it out a lot so the boys would be more than happy if he has to pay it.”

THE SMILE

Owen Farrell was key. Not only was he the central figure in England’s V, he also set the tone by smiling defiantly. “We wanted to send a bit of a message ourselves,” said George Ford. “That’s what they do when they’re doing the haka. They’re laying it down, so we thought, we’re coming back for you a bit.”

THE CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

Some of the All Blacks smiled as they walked away from the haka. England knew the challenge had been accepted.

“It was just about trying to shock them,” Billy Vunipola said. “The haka is a challenge and we wanted them to know that we accepted and respected the challenge, but also that we didn’t want to just take it. We put accountability on ourselves to back it up and I thought we did. We knew it would rile them, it probably felt like we

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