• England’s HaKa – the HoKey-CoKey

    The England rugby team are on track to complete their preparations for the Rugby World Cup according to the plan laid down by coach, Martin Johnson.

    England’s warm–up games have not so far shown the sort of form that suggests that they are real contenders for the title, but Johnson declares himself satisfied with where they are.

    “We are what we are, and we must work with what we have,” Johnson says. But he acknowledges that a change of identity is an important part of the plan.

    “The first step in the plan has been achieved,” he says. “The players are getting used to the black uniform, and no longer cringe with embarrassment when they put on the black jersey. We have encouraged the team to wear the black jersey in a wide range of situations – in bed, going to the supermarket, joining in riots, so that they cease to think of it as anything out of the ordinary. They now have some sense of what it feels like to be in a team with a better than 75% win rate over 106 years.”

    Johnson agrees that many members of his squad were World Cup winners eight years ago. “Advancing age is an insidious condition, though,” he says, “and memories have faded over the years. Most of those players remember nothing other than that the way to win is to do nothing until the last minute and then give the ball to Johnny to drop a goal. We needed some way of reviving memories for the players who have difficulty remembering 2003 of what it means to be in a world-class team.”

    England have worked hard to change the composition of the team – again with a view to updating its identity. “We have to move on from 2003,” he says, “and we need to introduce new – that is to say, non-English elements – into the team.”

    “We have worked hard to ensure that a high proportion of the players introduced since 2003 are not English. This seems to us to be our best bet for matching what overseas teams are able to achieve.”

    “In particular, I have been keen to put anyone with a vaguely Polynesian name and/or appearance straight into the team. It all helps to create the illusion for the players that might be able to play as well as Samoa.”

    Johnson revealed that there are still some tricks up his sleeve. “We will require team members, including the non-Polynesian minority, to acquire tattoos before the World Cup.” He rejected suggestions that being tattooed was a long, arduous, and exhausting process. “In line with our approach that it is perception rather than reality that matters, we have purchased a high-quality range of transfers that players can choose from the night before a match. Players can choose from a wide range of options, including “Kiss me quick” and “My old man’s a dustman.”

    Johnson was unwilling, however, to say much about what we understand is regarded by England’s management as potentially the coup de grace. We are led to believe that England are concerned at the advantage that they see the All Blacks as gaining from the haka. Work is well advanced on an English equivalent – something that will intimidate opponents and gain a psychological advantage for England.

    Johnson was dismissive of earlier efforts made by other teams to match the haka. In particular, he poked fun at the Australian use of Waltzing Matilda in trans-Tasman matches. “No one is going to be too terrified of a single guy strumming a guitar and singing a song about a dancing sheila,” he scoffed.

    We understand that the first effort at an English haka focused on the Morris dance. After several practices in secret, however, this idea was junked. “The tinkling bells, pretty ribbons, and skipping steps didn’t quite do it,” according to one well-placed observer (thought to be Steve Thompson who, it is reported, didn’t feel that it was quite him), “and it took us twenty minutes to change out of our gear when we had finished and into the black uniform.”

    We understand on good authority that the current plan is to do the hokey-cokey. “Performed by large men, singing loudly and scowling, it will, we think, produce the right effect,” says the same well-placed authority. “Putting your left leg in and then your left leg out in unison can seem very impressive and intimidating. And, like the haka, it has a cultural history that makes it a real statement of English resolve.”

    More work is needed however. It seems that the front-row are having difficulty in distinguishing their left legs from their right legs. Martin Johnson, though, is not deterred. “If the team can get this difficult technical exercise right, then the World Cup should be a piece of cake.”

    Bryan Gould

    16 August 2011