Like many people, I have a bucket list of sorts; stuff I want to see or do before I finally kick the bucket and shuffle off this mortal coil. A lot of things are probably a bit too big for me to really do – I want to go see a live WrestleMania, a want to see a Superbowl, I want to see a Houston Astros game… and one of them? I ticked it off this weekend.
I wanted to see the All Blacks perform a Haka live.
At Murrayfield on Saturday, I did just that. I also think I had as close to a religious experience as I’m going to get. Before the game started, we climbed the many… many… MANY steps to our seats, Row QQ, all up in the Gods and whatnot. After regaining the power of breathing, I took in the incredible view.
The pre match entertainment was in full flight, Grant Stott floating about the stadium, microphone in hand, promoting various different competitions and twitter hashtags to get involved. Meanwhile, we watched the players go through their warm up and drills. The seats were already filling, and being rugby, no segregation. Our section had a fair few Kiwi fans all around us, as did the whole stadiumm – and it was fantastic!
The players trooped off for the final moments in the changing rooms. We were told to turn the torches and flashes of our phones and cameras on, and prepare for the Lights Out event… and suddenly, Murrayfield was illuminated by just lights from the crowd, a few safety lights and a laser show on the pitch.
The PA system blared a danced up remix mash-up of the Proclaimers, Rhianna and Midnight Oil – it really shouldn’t have worked but in the moment, it did. It felt special, it looked amazing and it’s one of the most memorable things I’ve seen in any stadium.
A lone piper strode onto the pitch bathed in smoke and a single spotlight, playing Highland Cathedral and I felt the goosebumps developing on my arms. The teams followed as the lights slowly fired back into action, and the National Anthems were played.
Hearing the anthem of New Zealand belted out with passion by the Kiwi fans dotted about was superb, and made the match seem more than just the glorified friendly that it was. Scotland fans remained respectfully silent for the anthem, applauded the end of it, and then the lone piper launched into the opening line of Flower of Scotland.
The stadium seemed to take a breath, the rest of the pipe band joined in, and our national anthem was belted out like I’ve never heard it before. Greig Laidlaw stood with his fist clenched over his heart as the camera panned along the Scots team; a feeling of pride aided by the massed voices of the Scots fans booming out around him.
The pipes and drums halted after the first verse; the fans did not, and the second verse of Flower Of Scotland was blasted out by the fans alone, and culminated in a cannon at the corner of the pitch firing a solitary round to signify the final chorus.
And then, the PA system launched into Runrig’s “Loch Lomond” – perhaps wrongly timed, as the New Zealand team lined up near the halfway line. People around us carried on singing Loch Lomond, and there was a slightly disappointing Scotland chant throughout the Haka.
I much prefer respecting the Haka and it’s traditions by just listening to it, but the passion and fire of the New Zealanders overcame the chanting. Watching it in person is something else. I recorded it as best I could on my phone, held under my chin so I could take it all in with my own eyes and ears as it happened.
It was something else. It really was. I’ll never tire of seeing the Haka, whichever one is performed – and having seen it in person now, I can say it’s something every rugby fan should experience. I was miles away in the Gods of the stadium, and I felt the stares and glares of the Kiwi team as they eyeballed the Scots in front of them. You could feel the tradition and power behind it, and the pride of the players in the middle of it.
And like that, it was game time. The game? Scotland played valiantly, played bravely, had their chances but ultimately lost to the best team in the world. I believe we have improved immensely since last year, and it bodes well for the next Six Nations tourney.
From the minute I set foot inside Murrayfield, to the minute we walked out (to the joy of a HUGE queue for the trams) it was an almost spiritual experience… it’s a special, special experience to see the New Zealand rugby team, and not something I’ll ever forget.