One of rugby's original "hard men", credited with revitalising the haka in the All Blacks, wants to see New Zealand further embrace te reo Māori.

In 1985, former All Black captain Wayne "Buck" Shelford and teammate Hika Reid were asked to coach the haka to their fellow players.

"I said, 'I don't have a problem'," Shelford said.

"Hika said, 'I don't have a problem'. We both said, 'As long as we practice'. Pākehā don't have much rhythm."


So the pair trained their teammates, simplifying the actions for them.

"It was all about making sure we didn't embarrass ourselves in front of the world and in front of our own Māori people. We got it right, though, and the haka has just grown exponentially from there."

Originally the haka was only performed before overseas All Blacks test matches.

Now it is performed in all All Blacks matches, and has spread through all of the franchises including the Black Ferns, New Zealand Māori and male and female sevens teams.

A new book from respected British journalist Peter Bills —​ The Jersey —​ reignited discussion over the role the haka played for the All Blacks.

Interviews with ex-All Blacks Sir Colin Meads and Kees Meeuws revealed frustrations about the heavy use of the haka, and the team's mental skills coach, Gilbert Enoka, revealed some All Blacks had previously felt "haka‑ed out" and some "hated" having to constantly perform the Ka Mate version.

But Shelford did not see the haka going anywhere, anytime soon.

"I love the haka. For me, when they get put on the television, that is New Zealand Māori, that is us, Kiwi."

Shelford performs the haka during his All Blacks playing days. Photo / Getty Images
Shelford performs the haka during his All Blacks playing days. Photo / Getty Images

Now Shelford, of Ngāpuhi descent, wanted New Zealand to take it further, and fully embrace te reo Māori.

"Many can do kapahaka but not speak. I think, well, if you can learn a haka you can learn the reo."

Shelford's Māori-speaking father spoke English to his children, and he wasn't taught at school.

Shelford took on the te reo learning journey as an adult, beginning with night classes at Te Ataarangi and later a full year's immersion programme at Te Wānanga o Raukawa.

He could speak with his kāumatua (elders) but found it hard to find opportunities to use the language in the Pākehā circles he moves in.

"My wife is tūturu [committed] Māori, she speaks more reo than I. We both try and do as much as we can, especially teaching our moko [grandchildren].


"We believe it should be in every school in New Zealand, we should all be learning it.

"Growing up in a Pākehā world, I know that world very well. Now I am finding my Māori world in my 50s and 60s, but I could have had that my all my life, if we had been allowed to learn the reo in school.

"My dad got slapped on the hand for speaking the reo, so that generation never taught us. We are behind the eight ball. My kids don't speak te reo, but my mokopuna will.

"If te reo was compulsory in the schooling system we could have a multilingual country, with Māori, English, and all the other languages as well."

Shelford said it was good to see towns and cities around the country embracing te reo.

"Down in Rotorua the mayor is really tūturu Māori, putting Māori street names in. I tautoko [support] that, it's awesome."


In the rugby scene a simple start was getting people's name right.

"Don't bastardise a person's name, say it properly and learn the vowels. Everybody in rugby is now pronouncing Māori names really well, which is good. It is part of the growing movement, realising tikanga Māori is actually quite strong in New Zealand."

That culture change in rugby had been partly driven changes in New Zealand society, but was also organic, Shelford said.

"Rugby, we could be leaders in a lot of things, we don't want to be followers."