New Zealand rugby icon and the man credited with revitalising the All Blacks' haka, Buck Shelford, has hit back at an Irish writer's call for the traditional challenge to be stopped at the World Cup.

In a column for sports website Pundit Arena, Ewan MacKenna asked why the World Cup was still "pandering to the dance", calling it "unfortunate as New Zealand are justifiably big-headed enough without a massaging of their already massive egos".

MacKenna claimed the haka gives the All Blacks a "psychological edge through self-inspiration and via an attempt at opponent intimidation", and said it also "provides a small physical edge as others are forced to stand still and go briefly cold".

After a social media backlash on Wednesday, MacKenna doubled down on his comments, claiming to have "enraged the idiocy of New Zealand".


Former All Blacks captain and Herald columnist Shelford said MacKenna's comments were ignorant.

All Blacks captain Buck Shelford leads the haka in a test against Argentina at Carisbrook in in 1989. Photo / Photosport
All Blacks captain Buck Shelford leads the haka in a test against Argentina at Carisbrook in in 1989. Photo / Photosport

"He's just another writer who thinks that the haka is about getting a psychological advantage over the opposition. Well, mate, get a life. If that is all you can get out of 80 minutes of rugby, you don't deserve to be writing about our great game," Shelford said.

"Until you live in a country that has a great Māori culture like New Zealand… you are pretty naive, to say the least."

Read more:
Buck Shelford: The message that inspired the All Blacks to victory at 1987 World Cup
Buck Shelford: Foul play claims against All Blacks captain Kieran Read nothing but sour grapes

According to Shelford, foreigners - and even opposition players - often don't fully appreciate what the haka means to Kiwis.

"I was recently involved in a documentary with the World Cup-winning Australian captain John Eales, whose coach told him [in 1996] to turn his back on the haka and go back down the field and practice his passing," Shelford said.

"John was haunted by his actions for years after that and he came to New Zealand to see for himself how and why the haka is so important to us.

"He now understands it is not just about the rugby. It's what Māoridom means to our small country at the bottom of the Pacific."


In August last year, respected British journalist Peter Bills reignited debate over the role the haka played for the All Blacks in his book The Jersey.

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.

"The haka is about our mana to go into battle but more to the point, it is about total respect for the opposition," said Shelford.

"I have never heard any nation say anything about Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga's challenges. Could it be because those teams don't normally win their excursions to, say, the UK and Europe?"

Catch Buck Shelford, two-time World Rugby Women's Sevens Player of the Year Michaela Blyde, and All Black star-turned-Blues-coach Leon MacDonald on NZME's Rugby World Cup news show Beyond the Game after every All Blacks match in Japan.