Airdate: John Eales Reveals: The Haka

On Sunday Discovery premieres John Eales Reveals: The Haka, a special in which the former Wallabies captain revisits the 1996 incident in which his team turned their backs on the ritual by NZ’s All Blacks.

As he learns more about its cultural significance, he admits, “Not facing the Haka was my greatest regret.”

In 1996 the Wallabies, led by captain John Eales, notoriously turned their backs on the All Blacks – twice – as they performed the Haka during the Bledisloe Cup. The move was deemed disrespectful, inciting outrage in New Zealand and Australia and that fateful decision ultimately became the rugby union legend’s one regret in his illustrious playing career. Now, John Eales is making peace with his past as he embarks on a journey of redemption in John Eales Reveals: The Haka, coming to Discovery Channel Sunday August 20 at 7.30pm.

The Haka is the most famous pre-match ritual in sport around the world, but for Māoris and New Zealanders it’s more significant than that. So ingrained in their culture, historically, socially and psychologically, the Haka is a pivotal part of their identity and in this one-hour documentary, John is on a mission to gain a deeper understanding of the sacred ritual and its impact. To do so, he’s enlisted All Blacks legend Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford as his mentor. Buck is credited with reinvigorating the All Blacks Haka in the mid-1980s, transforming it into the global spectacle it is today.

John immerses himself in the Haka as he crisscrosses New Zealand, from Māori communities in Rotorua to Eden Park in Auckland where he’s confronted by several All Blacks from that historic match. However, there’s one player John can’t seek forgiveness from. Instead, Buck takes him to the gravesite of legendary All Black Jonah Lomu, who was honoured with a massive Haka at his funeral in 2015. Their journey takes them to Turangi on the North Island where the most famous Haka, the Ka Mate originated, before Buck sends John on a solo mission to the Māori community of Rotorua. Here he meets a Haka guru and is stared down by a group of young kids performing the war dance.

The documentary sees John return to Brisbane, where he faced his first Haka at High School in the 1980s, to meet a sports scientist who helps to investigate whether the Haka gives Kiwis a physical and psychological advantage over their opponents. He also calls on some rugby greats including Peter FitzSimons, George Gregan, David Wilson, Phil Kearns, Rod Macqueen and Andrew Mehrtens to seek their opinions on the Haka and the 1996 snub.

Shot in Australia and New Zealand, John Eales Reveals: The Haka is a deeply personal journey of discovery for one man confronting the demons of his past. In so doing, John takes viewers beyond the sporting spectacle and into the heart of the Haka; a cultural, historical and social ceremony that has become the glue that binds all New Zealanders – Māori and non- Māori – together.

John Eales Reveals: The Haka was produced by Mint Pictures for Discovery Channel. Māori production company, Scottie Productions consulted on the project.

Sunday 20 August at 7.30pm on Discovery.

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