In recent years, former All Blacks captain Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford has become as fiercely passionate about men’s health as he was about belting out a pre-match haka.
Legendary for having his torn scrotum stitched up at halftime of a 1986 test against France, Shelford has been through his own post-career ordeal, since being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2007.
He’s in remission now, but that wake-up call has seen him embark on a very personal campaign as advocate for men’s health issues.
Three’s Match Fit offers a perfect vehicle for Shelford to deliver that message, as he and World Cup-winning All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry assemble a team of former stars – now in their 40s and 50s – to prepare for a comeback.
Since bowing out of the game, many of these players have struggled to maintain their wellbeing without the motivation of team selection and professional contracts to spur them on.
That’s a predicament near and dear to Shelford’s heart.
“When I first touched base with the producers, it was about getting old All Blacks together later on in life to play one more match,” he tells Newshub.
“We began looking at some of the things that had gone wrong in their lives over the years.
“It’s a man’s cause, so I’ll jump into it big time.
“We know – and the stats support it – that men don’t like going to the doctor. I’ve been a Prostate Cancer Foundation ambassador for 13 years and the stats haven’t changed that much in 13 years.”
Many of these previously finely tuned athletes had simply let themselves slide physically.
Before he was diagnosed with cancer, Shelford admits he had ballooned out to 150kg. These days, aged 62, he tries to stay around his old playing weight of 110kg.
“It’s one of those things you don’t realise until it creeps up and bites you in the backside,” he says.
“During COVID, I put on a few pounds – I got up to 10kg heavier – so I’m working my butt off now to get it back down.”
Shelford has tried to follow the same fitness regime as the Match Fit players, but his body is no longer up to impact workouts. His main source of exercise now is road cycling.
After returning to the training track, many of the show’s antagonists have had to confront their declining condition.
“A lot of them, their health may be alright, but if you don’t go to the doctor, you’d never know,” he says.
“Most doctors would ask ‘what was your playing weight?’, they’d get on the scales and they’re 15-20kg overweight.
“They’re so used to being active and burning what they eat, but once they retire from rugby, they need to cut back what they eat, because you don’t need the same amount of calories.”
Shelford and Henry went through biometric testing with the players – both recorded significantly younger biological ages than their actual ages. Sir Graham, 74, remains incredibly spry for his age through daily walks and fasting.
“Probably these tests tend to work with Europeans better than Polynesians,’ claims Shelford. “They were designed in America or Britain, and have become a generic test over here.
“But we have different cultures here – Polynesian cultures, so many cultures – so do these tests take that into account. I think it can be quite biased.”
Made with ‘NZ On Air’ funding, Match Fit will screen over October/November, with the first players selections due to be announced on Sunday.