Video: All Blacks’ haka tribute at New Zealand war graves in France

The team paid tribute to soldiers who fell during World War One

The New Zealand rugby team visit graves of compatriots killed in World War One
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The New Zealand rugby team performed a haka tribute to honour fallen soldiers in France ahead of the rugby World Cup which starts later this month.

Nine days before play kicks off, the All Blacks visited Hauts-de-France on August 31 to see the memorials of New Zealanders who fought and died during the First World War.

After flying into Albert airport in Somme, they gathered at the cemetery at Caterpillar Valley in Longueval, where 125 New Zealand soldiers are buried.

The total number of Soldiers from the New Zealand Division who died during the battle of the Somme in 1916 is closer to 1200.

The All Blacks performed their famous haka in front of the memorials to pay their respects.

Caroline Bilkey, the ambassador for New Zealand in France said: “New Zealand paid a heavy price during the First World War on the western front and even here; 600 New Zelanders died on the first day of the battle of the Somme.

“I think that it’s very important for the All Blacks to understand the links between France and New Zealand for the defence of freedom.”

New Zealand is not the only rugby team to pay tribute to their fallen soldiers; the Australian team also visited the memorials of Australian soldiers in Villers-Bretonneux, who died during combat in World War One.

Nicknamed the Wallabies, the Australian team spoke of William Tasket, a former player who died in combat during the war.

It comes as a new exhibition showing how the figure of ‘the rugby player’ was exploited to encourage men to sign up for the war.

Of the visit, captain Wil Skelton said “To be a Wallaby is already a privilege.

“But then to serve your country as well, and at the time, to be capable of doing both at once, this is not possible for everyone.

“So to be able to come here, to see and participate in the ceremony, it was very special.”

Like New Zealand, Australia lost thousands of soldiers in the First World War, with the number estimated around 60,000.

Following the All Blacks visit to the memorials they headed to Pas-de-Calais, where members of the public, as well as the mayor of the town, had gathered in the rain to meet the team.

Now the team head to their base camp in Lyon, in preparation for their first match against France at the Stade de France on September 8.

Australia start their tournament on September 9 against Georgia.

See all the key dates for the Rugby World Cup here:

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