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England fined for haka response, yet All Blacks fine with it

TOKYO (AP) — The England players encroached on New Zealand's pre-match haka in a few moments of tension that indisputably heightened the drama of the Rugby World Cup semifinals. The All Blacks were fine with it, their coach describing England's response as "fantastic" and "brilliant." The England team was fined for it, ostensibly for crossing the line.

World Rugby confirmed the fine Wednesday, five days after a half-dozen England players crossed the halfway line in its response to the All Blacks' traditional pre-match challenge. The fine, reported to be 2,500 pounds ($3,200), was imposed after the sport's governing body deemed England had breached "tournament rules relating to cultural challenges, which states that no players from the team receiving the challenge may advance beyond the halfway line."

England's players stood in a V-formation with players in two lines angling out in a direction that would flank the haka. The French were fined in 2011 for advancing toward the haka, arms linked in a line across the field, before the final which France lost. Critics at the time described that fine as pedantic.

There's been plenty of derision over the penalty this time for an event which tournament organizers used to promote the contest — a video on the official Twitter feed had 1.2 million views by Wednesday morning.

Former England captain Will Carling was among the critics of the sanction, saying New Zealand had the right to perform the haka but authorities had no right to dictate how opponents or the crowd responded to it. The previous week, in the quarterfinals, Irish fans in the crowd sang loudly while the All Blacks were doing their pre-match haka against Ireland.

"It is a challenge," Carling tweeted, "so teams and opposition fans can react as they wish." The episode lit up social media, with the video on the official feed closing with the comments: "You want box office? You've got it. How about the challenge from England v New Zealand?"

Steve Hansen, who will be quitting as All Blacks head coach after Friday's bronze-medal playoff against Wales, had to walk a fine line with his reaction to the fine, but couldn't see any issues with England's actions. England players said the idea to respond to the haka had come from their Australian coach, Eddie Jones.

"Dangerous territory here," Hansen said. "I thought their response was fantastic. They didn't get fined for doing what they did. They got fined for going over halfway." Reserve prop Joe Marler was standing several meters on New Zealand's side of the halfway line and refused to retreat when match officials gestured to him to move. Other teammates stepped back, but Marler stood his ground.

Hansen said Marler perhaps should have gone back when "he got told two or three times." But "I thought the response was brilliant," Hansen said. "If you understand the haka, the haka requires a response. Quite imaginative, too."

All Blacks captain Kieran Read said immediately after England's 19-7 semifinal win that the response to the haka had no bearing on the result. If there was an impact, though, it was all in England's favor. The English scored a try in the second minute and were never behind on the scoreboard against the two-time defending champions.

It ended England's run of six consecutive losses against the All Blacks and secured a spot in Saturday's Rugby World Cup final against South Africa.

More AP Rugby World Cup: https://www.apnews.com/RugbyWorldCup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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