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It’s surreal: English rugby centre tells of his ‘haka’ experience

RUGBY: Having seen it countless times on the television, and even having witnessed it being performed live right in front of my face at the Phuket International Rugby 10s, for me personally the only way to describe the feeling one gets when watching a performance of the haka is one of complete intimidation.


Matt Pond

Sunday 6 August 2017, 03:00PM

Kieran Reid of New Zealand leads the Haka prior to kick-off during the international match between Ireland and New Zealand in Chicago, United States. Photo: Phil Walter/AFP
Kieran Reid of New Zealand leads the Haka prior to kick-off during the international match between Ireland and New Zealand in Chicago, United States. Photo: Phil Walter/AFP

But one person who has been on the receiving end of a haka, up close and personal, is England, British and Irish Lions and Bath Rugby team member Jonathan Joseph who was recently catching up on some much needed rest and relaxation time here in Phuket. Joseph was kind enough to spend a little time talking to The Phuket News about his experiences as an international rugby player, and he said that facing a haka is “surreal”.

The haka, for those who don’t know, and I’m sure that is very few, is a traditional war cry, war dance, or challenge from the Māori people of New Zealand – and a tradition carried on by the New Zealand national rugby union team, the “All Blacks”, since 1905. It is now regularly performed by the All Blacks before their international matches – making the unique cultural practice much more widely known around the world.

Born on May 21, 1991, 26-year-old Joseph began his rugby career at Derby RFC. He came through the London Irish academy after spending his teenage years playing at Newbury RFC. At club level, his first senior rugby came on loan to Barnes RFC, but his breakthrough season was for London Irish in 2010-11 where he played in 13 premiership games and scored five tries. He left London Irish at the end of the 2012-13 season having made 44 appearances and scored 13 tries. Joseph joined Bath at the start of the 2013-14 season and quickly forged a successful midfield partnership with inside centre Kyle Eastmond.

In addition, Joseph progressed through the England age-grade ranks, appearing for England U20s in the 2011 Junior World Championships and playing off the bench in the final against New Zealand.

He started for England in the 2015 Six Nations tournament, as a result of other players being benched with injuries, and scored three tries in the opening two matches, against Wales then Italy, and was named man of the match in the latter.

On 14 May 2015, it was announced Joseph had won the Rugby Players’ Association “Player’s Player of the Year” and “England Player of the Year” for his outstanding performances for both club and country during the 2014/15 season. Joseph was the highest try scorer of the year out of all of England’s players, scoring eight tries throughout 2016. This included a hat-trick against Italy during England’s grand slam at the 2016 Six Nations.

Joseph was also recently selected as one of the 41 British and Irish Lions to tour New Zealand this summer, but despite not getting to play against the All Blacks, he relived his experience facing the haka on a previous occasion against the rugby giants.

“When you face a haka for the first time it’s kind of crazy. You’ve gown up watching it on TV and as a kid you think ‘wow this is awesome’, but once you’re there and you’re actually facing it, it’s one of those moments being a rugby player that you know you’ll always remember.

“But even after facing it more than once it’s still a surreal experience,” Joseph said.

The NAKA Island

Speaking about the recent British and Irish Lions to tour itself, Joseph said, “It was an amazing experience as I got to play alongside some unbelievable and world class players. There was so much I learned and took away from that tour, it’s certainly something I’m going to remember forever.”

But being a member of the tour side wasn’t the only highlight of Joseph’s career so far, he explains, “It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly was the highlight of my career, being selected for the Lions was certainly up here, but making my debut for England was huge. I’ve also [had other] moments which I will cherish and always remember.”

But it wasn’t only rest and relaxation that brought Joseph to Phuket – on July 23 he held a sports clinic for the children of the Barnhem Thai-Swedish Foundation in Muang Mai, Thalang.

Established in February 2005 following the December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the Barnhem Thai-Swedish Foundation initially focused on homing orphans and disadvantaged children who were victims of the disaster.

But today, it is home to over 30 children between five and 18 years old who have either lost their parents or lack a family member to care for them.

Speaking to The Phuket News following the clinic, and in between different groups of the kids taking his attention, Joseph said, “What they have done for the kids here at Barnhem is absolutely amazing, the kids are happy, they’re fantastic and I’m glad that I could come here to add a little something.

“I haven’t been able to add anything dramatic to what they already have here, but just to be able to play with the kids and donate some kit has been a real pleasure. I have thoroughly enjoyed the day,” Joseph said.

But Joseph was already aware of Barnhem prior to his arrival in Phuket and he explained, “I was aware of the facility and what everybody does here so I’m really happy that I could come down here myself and see it all in person.”



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