The haka may be the war cry of the All Blacks but according to flanker Liam Messam, the man who gets to lead it is decided by looks.
The haka may be the mythical war cry that the All Blacks chant before Tests but according to flanker Liam Messam, the man who gets to lead it is decided by looks.
29-year-old Messam has been bestowed with the honour in recent matches, taking over from the likes of hooker Keven Mealamu or scrum-half Piri Weepu – who has not been selected for this tour.
And asked why he thought he was picked to lead the haka, Messam, who hopes to be asked once again on Saturday at the Stade de France against France, said his ugly features were as important as his Maori background.
“Hopefully, if I make the team I'll be up there leading it but if not we've got some good leaders,” he said.
“You've got to write a CV and send it to (captain) Richie McCaw and he picks it from there,” he joked.
“I'm not sure, I guess being Maori myself, that's our native people and being given the opportunity is a huge opportunity for me and my people to lead the haka.
“First off, you've got to be ugly. There's about 99 percent of the boys that are ugly so we're in a good way there.
“Being confident and being able to express yourself and don't worry what other people think.
“New players to the haka maybe worry about what other people think but the uglier and scarier you are the better.”
Asked who was the ugliest player most suited to leading the haka, Messam said rampaging centre Ma-a Nonu's battle-scarred features were the most suitable while the teen boy-band look of Aaron Cruden was least likely to be seen at the front of the pack.
“Probably Ma'a Nonu (is the ugliest), he's pretty ugly,” said Messam.
“Probably Aaron Cruden (is the least ugly), he's a bit of a pretty boy.”
While neither of those is likely to be asked, Messam is ready to step forward if given the chance.
“I'm a bit old fashioned, whatever I get told from my elders, I do,” he said.
“Keven Mealamu used to lead the haka and Kevie bestowed upon me to lead it and whatever he says, I'll do it. I'm not too worried or fussed, it's something I grew up with living in Rotorua.”
For Mealamu, the haka is just part of the preparation for the game.
“The haka's not done for (the opponents), it's done for us. It's part of our preparation, it's nothing to do with trying to scare them.
“It's about us, it's part of our history of rugby, we've been doing the haka for over 100 years.
“We just try to make sure we do it well and if the people enjoy it, it's a good tradition of rugby.”
As for the game against the French, who have a terrible record this year, winning just one out of eight internationals, including losing all three on their tour to New Zealand in June, Mealamu is still expecting a difficult challenge for the All Blacks, who have won all 11 tests they have played in 2013.
“Any opportunity that you get to play the French here in Paris is an awesome opportunity and for us, there are only 23 of us that get the opportunity to do that and there are 37 of us that have travelled, so we're the lucky ones,” Mealamu said.
“If you get the chance to play, that's a good challenge because it's never easy to play the French here in Paris.
“When playing against France, you have to prepare for their best team because they're capable of pulling out, even when they're not going well, some very good rugby.
“So we've prepared to see their best team, the best France team that we could possibly see at the weekend.
“Obviously there are a few learning points over the last three tests we've played against them, but both teams are looking to get better. We don't take anything for granted.”