Italian Kiwis mulling Haka 'challenge' to All Blacks
Lining up against the All Blacks in Lyon on Friday will be a special occasion for Italy forwards Toa Halafihi and Hame Faiva.
Both players were born in New Zealand, both have represented the Hurricanes in Super Rugby and Faiva even played for New Zealand under-20s at the Junior World Championships in 2013 and 2014.
Facing New Zealand will give both players the chance to experience the famous Haka ceremonial dance performed by the All Blacks before a match, but as an opposition player rather than a participant.
Performing the Haka "is an amazing feeling, you can't (describe) it," hooker Faiva, who performed the pre-match routine for New Zealand at two Junior World Championships, told AFP.
"To be facing the Haka this week ... and to see my friends from the All Blacks doing it, it's going to be a cool experience."
No.8 Halafihi says he is not sure he will just stand and watch the All Blacks before Friday's Pool A match.
"Me and Hame have been talking about doing a Haka back, just the two of us!" he quipped.
"But jokes aside, it will be very emotional if we do get the chance to suit up on the field. It would definitely be an honour to face up against what we grew up watching."
As for performing the Haka themselves, Halafihi has not ruled it out.
"I think it would almost be a challenge because they have laid down the challenge of the Haka and if we do the Haka back it would definitely raise the stakes a little more."
If they did so at the OL Stadium on Friday, it would not be the first time the All Blacks had faced a Haka by some of their expat compatriots.
In 2008, when New Zealand were touring Europe they played a midweek match against Munster, where the home team's Kiwis Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi, Rua Tipoki and Jeremy Manning performed a Haka before the All Blacks did theirs, to the delight of the raucous crowd.
Munster almost pulled off a famous victory, too, but a Joe Rokocoko try five minutes from time broke their hearts.
New Zealand hooker Codie Taylor said he would have no problem with facing the Haka while wearing the famous black jersey.
"If they want to do that because that's where they're from, then by all means," he said.
- 'I loved the All Blacks growing up' -
Halafihi and Faiva, both 29, were part of the Chiefs development set-up before going their separate ways.
Faiva played for Waikato and the Blues before moving to Europe to join Italy's Benetton.
Halafihi joined Poverty Bay, moved on to Taranaki and played for the Hurricanes before he headed to Europe to join Lyon.
After one year in France, he joined Faiva at Benetton.
Current Italy coach Kieran Crowley was Benetton coach at the time, and he moved to the national team, his compatriots followed him after qualifying on residency grounds.
Faiva made his Azzurri debut in the 2021 end-of-year internationals and Halafihi his a few months later in the 2022 Six Nations.
Both players are looking forward to seeing some old Hurricanes team-mates, such as Ardie Savea.
"Me and Ards (Savea) had a chat this week about other stuff," said Favia, who played for the Hurricanes earlier this year.
"We never talk rugby, it's more friendship than anything. We all know when we get on the field it's all on and when we get off the field it's back to friends again."
And although he was never able to play for the full All Blacks, Favia still has great affection for the team.
"I loved the All Blacks growing up. Obviously I play for Italy but I still love the All Blacks because growing up they showed me what rugby was and that's how I got my love for rugby."
While the two players will be giving their all for their adopted country, Faiva admitted there would be some split loyalties back home in New Zealand.
"My parents will be definitely supporting Italy and all my friends will be supporting me and the All Blacks, so 50:50," he said.
For Halafihi's children there is a more important issue at stake than supporting one team or the other.
"My kids love the Haka, so they said, am I going to sing the national anthem and join the Haka?"
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