ENGLAND centre Shontayne Hape knows more about the haka than most and is urging his team-mates to stare right back when New Zealand perform their war dance at Twickenham on Saturday.
Auckland-born Hape took part in the haka himself when representing his native country at rugby league, before switching codes and joining Bath in 2008, but will face it for the first time when he lines up against the All Blacks in the first autumn international.
Former England hooker Richard Cockerill famously responded to the pre-match ceremony by squaring up to New Zealand’s Norm Hewitt at Old Trafford in 1997. That retort is now forbidden by world chiefs the IRB, but Hape has insider knowledge of how to handle the haka.
“The haka is something I have been thinking of,” said Hape, who was yesterday named in a side that features just one change from the victory over Australia.
“I have done it before, but if I give any advice to my team-mates it will be to stand tall, stare them back in the eyes and let them know we will accept the challenge. I know the cameras will be on me but I am not going to do anything stupid or jump out and start doing the haka back. It is a challenge we will accept as a team.”
Hape, of Maori descent, switched nationalities in 2009 after qualifying on residency grounds and, having made his England debut in Sydney in June, is eager to cement his place at inside centre against his former compatriots.
“I am proud of where I come from but ultimately life leads everyone in different directions and now I am representing England,” he added. “This is an opportunity I am relishing. To be given the opportunity to play against my country of birth, who are the No1 team at the moment, there is no better challenge.”
The 28-year-old is part of an unchanged back division that includes Leicester’s Toby Flood at fly-half and his club colleague Ben Youngs at scrum half.
The return of Sale prop Andrew Sheridan to the front row, in place of Wasps’ Tim Payne, is the only change to Martin Johnson’s side.
Bath flanker Lewis Moody is fit enough to retain the captaincy, despite suffering permanent damage to his sight last month.
MATCH FACTS | ENGLAND V NEW ZEALAND
England team: B Foden (Northampton); M Cueto (Sale), M Tindall (Gloucester), S Hape (Bath), C Ashton (Northampton); T Flood (Leicester), B Youngs (Leicester); A Sheridan (Sale), S Thompson (Leeds), D Cole (Leicester), C Lawes (Northampton), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Croft (Leicester), L Moody (Bath, capt), N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Bath), D Attwood (Gloucester), H Fourie (Leeds), D Care (Harlequins), C Hodgson (Sale), D Armitage (London Irish).
Captain Lewis Moody and winger Mark Cueto (right) are the only survivors from the England team beaten 19-6 by the All Blacks last November.
England are out to end an eight-match losing streak against New Zealand which dates back to June 2003, when Sir Clive Woodward’s soon to be world champions won 15-13, courtesy of Jonny Wilkinson’s four penalties and a drop goal.
New Zealand may have lost to Australia last weekend but before that had won 15 Tests in a row, and remain the No1 ranked team in the world.