Haka powers rugby players

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 July, 2007, 12:00am

Enthusiastic young rugby players gave a surprise performance of a lively haka war cry at a rugby dinner in Hong Kong this week.

The haka was made famous by New Zealand's All Blacks rugby team who perform it before each match.

But the power of the haka is also helping some of Hong Kong's disadvantaged teenagers tap into their inner strengths thanks to an organisation dedicated to inspiring them through sport.

Hong Kong Operation Breakthrough aims to help young people build self-esteem through team sports and encourage them not to go astray.

Rugby is one of the most popular activities on offer. Soccer, boxing, sailing and outward bound courses are also available.

About 80 Hong Kong children play rugby through the project and there is a waiting list to join.

'When most of these kids start playing rugby, the first thing they want to do is learn the haka,' said Operation Breakthrough rugby coach, Alex Yuen.

Yuen and his coaching staff invited about 20 members of the Operation Breakthrough rugby team to perform a haka at the Standard Chartered Bank Rugby World Cup dinner this week.

New Zealander Sammy Iafeta, who plays rugby for Hong Kong, helped the boys with their last-minute rehearsals.

Iafeta used to help underprivileged youths in New Zealand and now works as a pre-school teacher at Po Leung Kuk during the day.

'I'm here not just because I love to see these youngsters make something of their lives, but also because I'm a proud Kiwi, and every New Zealander knows the haka.'

Operation Breakthrough player Marco Wong, 16, who has been playing rugby for three years said: 'I got into rugby through my friends at school, and will play rugby for the rest of my life. It makes me feel so powerful.'

Patrick Chu, 13, said: 'It's great to do something positive.'

Ivan Chan, 18, agrees. 'I love the buzz, there's nothing else like it. The haka makes rugby even more fun.'

The team performed on stage with former All Blacks player, Josh Kronfeld.

'In New Zealand, everyone has a school haka. At all levels it's a focal point for a team,' said Kronfeld.

'It's a way of 'switching on' for the All Blacks. It was great to help teach the Operation Breakthrough children how to do it. I encouraged them to scream as loudly as they could.'

Kronfeld is passionate about the history and tradition behind the haka. 'The haka is about protecting territory and people that you love, and portrays strong emotions. It should be revered and respected,' he said.

Originally, the dance was performed by New Zealand natives, but now the whole country embraces it.

Thanks to the popularity of rugby, the haka is becoming well known around the world.

'It's great to see these Hong Kong youngsters embrace it. It took a lot of courage for them to get up on stage, and everyone was very proud of them,' said Kronfeld.

'The haka is symbolic of strength and action. It's about pride and focus, which is the basis of Operation Breakthrough.'

Kronfeld hopes the team continue to enjoy playing rugby and performing the haka but also learn valuable lessons in the process.

'I'd also like these children to take away from Operation Breakthrough's rugby programme the fact that you are never too old or too young to make changes to your life.

'It's important to keep learning and growing.

'Doing something that you believe in strongly is a powerful and positive tool,' he said.

For more information about Operation Breakthrough visit www.breakthrough.hk