The unmistakable sound of the haka will boom around North Harbour Stadium in the moments before the All Blacks take on arch-rivals the Springboks on Saturday night.

And before the Boks line up to face-off against the haka, the All Blacks and their fans - both in the ground and watching on in their homes, or at pubs and sports clubs - will proudly belt out the national anthem; both in English and Māori.

The haka and the dual language anthem now follow the All Blacks wherever they play around the world.

But what will be witnessed at Albany's North Harbour Stadium is a world away from what sports fans witnessed in the mid-80s.

Advertisement

The haka was something the All Blacks only ever did before overseas matches (a policy which eventually changed to include tests in New Zealand during the 1987 Rugby World Cup); and anyone who has searched out footage of haka during the 20th century won't take long to realise that some of the players who did the haka weren't exactly experts with either its words or actions.

That started changing in 1985, when legendary No 8 Wayne 'Buck' Shelford and hooker Hika Reid were called on to improve the ABs' haka skills.

In resources compiled by the Māori Language Commission to celebrate Māori Language Week, Shelford has opened up on what went on behind the scenes to ensure that the haka was taken as seriously by the All Blacks as they took their playing ability.

"No way I was going to teach them if they didn't want to practice and didn't do it properly," Shelford has revealed.

"Hika grew up on haka and I found it in my teens. In the military I'd learned from my haka tutors not to teach guys if they weren't going to do it properly and weren't going to train. It was all about making sure we didn't embarrass ourselves in front of the world and in front of our own Māori people".

Fast forward 32 years and the All Blacks now have two haka; the traditional Ka Mate haka (composed by Te Rauparaha) and Kapo O Pango (written especially for the team and which debuted in 2005).

Shelford is also now a proud Māori speaker, initially learning via night classes before going onto doing a full year's immersion at Te Wānanga o Raukawa.

He urged Kiwis wanting to give Māori a go to give it their best.

"Many can do kapahaka but not speak. You can see now the All Blacks they are really enjoying it - and with kapahaka comes the language. I think well, if you can learn a haka you can learn the reo."

Chart-topping singer Hinewehi Mohi has a similar message for Kiwis wanting to sing the anthem in both Māori and English.

Mohi made global headlines in 1999 when she broke into the national anthem in Māori prior to the All Blacks' 1999 Rugby World Cup clash against England at Twickenham.

While everyone was surprised at the version Mohi delivered, opinion was clearly left divided.

But Mohi's actions were groundbreaking, and now the dual language anthem has been formally adopted by New Zealand.

"It seemed natural to do it in Māori as this was the best I could do as an ambassador for our country," Mohi said.

"I got a fair bit of flak for it and it was quite upsetting because naively I did not realise that there were so many people opposed to the inclusion of the language. Why it caused such a furore baffles me to this day, especially as the haka is performed straight after the haka in te reo Māori.

"I am really glad for the outcome because at least it created some discussion and thought and consideration of the inclusion of the Māori version. There is now a widespread acceptance (and higher volume!) of te reo Māori version."

Mohi said that the Maori language helped define us as New Zealanders.

"Everywhere I go and everywhere I perform it is on behalf of my tūpuna and those who are fiercely proud of the culture and language we have."

Her advice for anthem singers - both professional and amateurs?

"Put your hand on your heart and feel the wairua of those that have been and those who still live and breathe the strength and vitality of our nation. Sing your heart out."

• For more on Buck Shelford and Hinewehi Mohi's stories and other Māori Language Week resources, visit the Māori Language Commission's website.