Auckland Blues to lay down haka challenge for Lions


Auckland (AFP)

The Auckland Blues will unleash their own version of the haka against the British and Irish Lions Wednesday, as New Zealand's Super Rugby teams ramp up pressure on Warren Gatland's tourists.

The fearsome Maori war dance is traditionally reserved for the world champion All Blacks but New Zealand's five Super Rugby sides all plan to lay haka challenges to the Lions.

The Blues' version of the foot-stomping, chest-thumping pre-match ritual is called He Toa Takitini (The Strength of Many), reflecting the diversity of New Zealand's largest city.

Coach Tana Umaga said they were keen to unveil the new haka before Wednesday's match against the Lions kicked off in front of what is expected to be a sell-out 45,000 crowd.

It will be the first time the Blues have performed a haka in the club's 21-year history.

"We've been practising for some time and the boys will be looking forward to getting out there for what will be a fantastic occasion," he said.

The Canterbury Crusaders, Wellington Hurricanes and Otago Highlanders have also created new hakas for the Lions tour, while the Waikato Chiefs will perform a version first used before they won the 2012 title.

Gatland, a New Zealander, has welcomed the fact that most of his team's opponents, not just the All Blacks, will perform the haka.

He said earlier this month that it gave his players a chance to familiarise themselves with the ritual before they face the world champions, reducing its intimidation factor.

The All Blacks perform two versions of the haka -- the traditional Ka Mate and the Kapa O Pango, which was introduced in 2005.

Gatland has said his players have no planned response to the haka, which has been a flashpoint in the past as teams have attempted to show they will not be cowed.

Ireland famously advanced towards the All Blacks at Lansdowne Road in 1989 until the teams' skippers were eyeball to eyeball, while David Campese pointedly ignored the haka before Australia beat New Zealand in the 1991 World Cup semi-final.

In 2011, France were fined when they formed a flying-V and marched into the All Blacks' half before the World Cup final -- a punishment that critics said showed authorities had become too sensitive about "disrespecting" the haka.