How Taika Waititi could help the Lions win in New Zealand
Coach Warren Gatland orders squad to brush up on Kiwi culture ahead of All Blacks test series
Taika Waititi was named New Zealander of the year in February, inheriting the honour from former All Black rugby captain Richie McCaw. But the acclaimed filmmaker, writer and comedian could turn out to be the secret weapon for the British and Irish Lions when they tour New Zealand this summer.
Getting his squad together for the first time this week, head coach Warren Gatland revealed he had instructed the players to brush up on Kiwi culture ahead of their daunting tour and had recommended they watch two of Waititi's films - Boy and the 2016 hit comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople - along with the Oscar-nominated Whale Rider.
They have also been given playlists of New Zealand music, including Crowded House, to listen to.
Gatland, who is from New Zealand, said: "You have to understand there are a lot of people [in the squad] who haven't been to New Zealand. That is a different experience for a player. It wasn't until I left there that I realised how tough a country it is to go on tour and players can find that experience daunting."
He added that understanding the country's "isolation" was key to dealing with any "potential issues that may arise".
The coach is "keen to emphasise the formidable on-field welcome" that awaits the team, says Robert Kitson of The Guardian. And it is likely to be memorable. The five New Zealand Super Rugby sides have already announced plans to perform a Maori haka before their matches against the tourists.
"Arriving with a healthy respect for New Zealand culture and rugby is near the top of [Gatland's] list of ingredients for an enjoyable, winning tour," adds Kitson. "That means, for now, talking up the challenge rather than swaggering into town and being perceived as arrogant big shots."
Owen Slot of The Times was intrigued by the approach. "Quite what having Crowded House and Split Enz on the tour playlist will do to get them over the line in Eden Park is yet to be revealed, but Gatland is absolutely intent on this - they have to understand where they are going to," he says.
Gatland's approach seems to have won approval in New Zealand. "Respect, following protocol and elevating the Lions in the minds of Kiwis, as well as the team's many supporters, many of whom will be travelling, is very important to him," said the New Zealand Herald last month.
"There are bridges to be re-built after the team's last trip here 12 years ago when a siege mentality existed even before skipper Brian O'Driscoll was invalided out of it in the opening minutes of the first test."
Crash course in Kiwi culture:
Watch: Hunt for the WilderpeopleBoyWhale Rider
Listen to:Crowded HouseSplit EnzSix60