New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - THIS WEEK IN... - Donna Flem­ing

It was typ­i­cal of a man known as much for his mod­esty and down-to-earth at­ti­tude as his fear­some skills on the rugby pitch.

Sir Colin Meads had just been given a stand­ing ova­tion as a gi­ant bronze statue of him was un­veiled in his home town of Te Kuiti, and been spo­ken about in glow­ing terms by for­mer All Black and good mate Sir Brian Lo­chore, who said, “What he has done for Te Kuiti is amaz­ing... but what he has done for New Zealand is un­sur­pass­able.”

Colin, who was ill with pan­cre­atic can­cer, was char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally self-ef­fac­ing. He apol­o­gised to the crowd for “not be­ing as fit as he used to be”, adding, that said, he would not be able to have too many beers at the func­tion af­ter­wards, “but I will try to have a few”.

He also ad­mit­ted that when he was first asked about a statue be­ing made of him, he wasn’t keen. “I didn’t want it. I thought it was a ridicu­lous idea. Now it has come to fruition, I feel pretty hon­oured.”

He told broad­caster Tony Veitch he was hum­bled by the “mar­vel­lous” 2.7m statue. “It’s the sort of thing you don’t expect late in life. I’m an old bug­ger now and I’m not keep­ing the best of health, and you sort of think, ‘Why me?’ It keeps you go­ing.”

Sadly, the statue un­veil­ing on June 19 was to be the last pub­lic out­ing for the man widely con­sid­ered to be our great­est ever All Black. The rugby leg­end died on Au­gust 20, aged 81.

It is telling the trib­utes that poured in for Colin not only high­lighted his prow­ess as a rugby player, but his strength of char­ac­ter and gen­er­ous na­ture.

All Black great Richie McCaw says, “I ad­mired how hum­ble he was and how he would give his time so freely to help any­one or any cause in need.”

Prime Min­is­ter Bill English re­vealed he had the priv­i­lege of get­ting to know Colin. “He was not only a great All Black, but a gen­uinely good New Zealand bloke. He rep­re­sented what it means to be a New Zealan­der. He was no-non­sense, re­li­able, hard-work­ing, warm and very gen­er­ous with his time.”

Colin’s wife Lady Verna and five chil­dren Karen, Kelvin, Rhonda, Glynn and Shel­ley is­sued a state­ment thank­ing med­i­cal staff for their care of Colin, who was di­ag­nosed with can­cer in Au­gust last year, and friends, fam­ily and well-wish­ers for their sup­port.

His youngest daugh­ter

Shel­ley Mitchell said, “Dad led a full life. He loved be­ing an

All Black and he loved his fam­ily dearly. We will miss him ter­ri­bly.”

Colin Earl Meads was born in Cam­bridge in 1936 and grew up on a King Coun­try farm, where work­ing the land helped him to build up the im­pres­sive physique that earned him the nick­name Pine­tree. He and younger brother Stan, who also played for the All Blacks, used to have to chop back the scrub by hand, start­ing early in the morn­ing.

“That work was part of our train­ing,” he said in a 2011

in­ter­view. “You were work­ing like bloody hell. We used to pray for the rugby sea­son to come around be­cause it meant we could knock off early to go to train­ing.”

Years later, a story would do the rounds that Colin trained by run­ning up and down the hills of the farm with a sheep tucked un­der each arm. There was even a pho­to­graph as ap­par­ent “ev­i­dence”.

Colin later de­bunked that myth. He re­vealed he’d been tak­ing some sheep to be dipped and had scooped up a cou­ple that were ex­hausted from the long walk, just as a photographer ar­rived.

“They were bug­gered, so I had one un­der each arm. This photographer takes a pic­ture of it and that sent the myth around that I was train­ing with them.”

Ac­claimed rugby photographer Peter Bush, who took the shot, has since ad­mit­ted he joked with a

‘I bet Colin will never know how long his shadow is, he was a hero to thou­sands of us fel­las’

Bri­tish tabloid re­porter about Colin train­ing with the sheep, and the jour­nal­ist printed a se­ri­ous story about it.

Colin may not have jogged with sheep, but he ex­celled with the rugby ball. He was first cho­sen for the All Blacks in 1957 and even many decades on, when asked about the best mo­ment of his rugby ca­reer, he would re­ply, “When you are first picked for the All Blacks, when your name is read out. It’s a real shock and a great thrill.”

For the next 15 years, his se­lec­tion was a given. A lock, he was known for his phys­i­cal and un­com­pro­mis­ing play, and was in­volved in his fair share of con­tro­ver­sial in­ci­dents on the field. He earned a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the tough­est men in the game after he con­tin­ued play­ing a match against East Transvaal in South Africa in 1970, de­spite hav­ing bro­ken his arm.

“I went to the side­line and the doc looked at it and said, ‘I think you’ve just pinched a nerve,’” Colin re­called in

2011. “Re­ally? I’m not go­ing off for a bloody pinched nerve. So I car­ried on play­ing. But I knew it wasn’t right.”

He was re­spected both at home and over­seas. “I look at Colin Meads and see a great, big sheep farmer who car­ried the ball in his hands as though it was an or­ange pip,” said renowned Scot­tish com­men­ta­tor Bill McLaren.

Colin be­came the All Black cap­tain, but his in­ter­na­tional ca­reer ended after he broke his back in a car crash. He played 133 games for the All Blacks, 55 of them tests, and after re­tire­ment went on to be a coach, man­ager and mem­ber of the na­tional se­lec­tion panel. In 1999, he was named the Player of the Cen­tury by the New Zealand Rugby Monthly mag­a­zine.

A younger gen­er­a­tion of

Ki­wis who never got to see Colin in ac­tion on the rugby field came to know him after he ap­peared in com­mer­cials for prod­ucts rang­ing from tanalised fence posts and utes through to cheese and deer vel­vet. He be­came an in-de­mand pub­lic speaker and also gave his time to char­i­ta­ble causes.

In 2001, Colin was made a New Zealand Companion of Merit (the equiv­a­lent of a knight­hood). When the for­mer sys­tem of ti­tles was rein­tro­duced in 2009, Colin ac­cepted the ti­tle of Sir, but didn’t want to be ad­dressed as such. He said that it was more ap­pro­pri­ate for fel­low knighted All Blacks Sir Wilson Whin­eray and Sir Brian Lo­chore. They de­served it as they were “per­fect gen­tle­men” while he was “a bit rougher”.

Te Kuiti was so proud of its lo­cal hero that it re­named itself Meadsville dur­ing the

2011 Rugby World Cup. The name was res­ur­rected for the oc­ca­sion of the statue un­veil­ing, with shops putting up tem­po­rary signs, such as “Mead-acine”. En­thu­si­as­tic sup­port­ers of all ages packed the town for the event and de­spite fears that he might be too ill to at­tend, in typ­i­cally staunch fash­ion, Colin turned up as guest of hon­our.

His fam­ily were de­lighted he was able to make it and the event turned out to be a fit­ting trib­ute to a hum­ble man who has left the na­tion with a larger-than-life legacy.

Broth­ers Stan and Colin speak with artist Natalie Stamilla after the un­veil­ing of Colin’s statue in Te Kuiti.

The story was the rugby great used to train by run­ning up hills with a sheep un­der each arm.

Colin doted on his 14 grand­chil­dren and seven great grand­chil­dren.

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