John Eales finds peace with the haka
RUGBY great John Eales tackles one of his biggest regrets in a new documentary for The Discovery Channel.
The dual Rugby World Cup winner and Brisbane native is one of Australia's most accomplished Wallabies captains, winning 11 out of his 20 Tests against the All Blacks.
But there's one day that is a blight on his otherwise distinguished legacy.
In 1996 Eales led the Wallabies in their controversial decision to turn their backs on the All Blacks performing the haka.
It's a decision he has regretted ever since.
"I felt straight away that what we were doing was wrong, and it was such a low point in our history from a performance point of view," he tells The Guide.
"It's something I always regretted but never had the occasion to explore."
The documentary John Eales Reveals: The Haka is a journey of redemption for the 47-year-old and an opportunity for him to make peace with his past.
Cameras follow Eales as he heads to New Zealand to learn about the cultural, social and psychological connection that Kiwis - Maori and non-Maori - have with the haka.
"It's an idea that's been in my mind for a long time," he says. "The haka is something that is so interesting and I think people want to know more about it."
Guided by All Blacks legend Buck Shelford, his trip takes him to Wellington, Auckland and Maori communities in Rotorua and Turangi where Eales learns a haka.
"Doing parts of the haka was something I never thought I would do," he says.
"I was also worried that it might not be respectful, but Inia Maxwell said if you're approaching it with respect then it is okay. A lot of people don't know much about it. The history and heritage of it is something special that needs to be respected."
Meeting with Maori elders, haka experts and some of the players he turned his back on back in 1996, Eales did not shy away from scrutiny.
"You always wonder how much people will want to be involved, but the vast majority of people in New Zealand were very interested in the fact that I was interested in doing it," he says.
"Me wanting to understand what that meant, people respected that and were keen to help."
After his cultural education, how does Eales view the haka now?
"People often ask what was it like facing the haka and in many respects you're in a privileged position to be able to confront that before playing a Test match against the All Blacks," he says.
"If you're playing against them then you're going to participate but how you participate is what's key.
"The way we looked at it (in 1996) was that we shouldn't be dictated to in how we respond to it. That's still fair enough, but what we did wasn't right. Your response to the haka might not be an outward response, but in some way, shape or form it needs to be you connecting as a team as you're facing it."
John Eales Reveals: The Haka airs on Sunday at 7.30pm on the Discovery Channel.