THE LEGEND THAT WAS PINETREE MEADS
THE WEEKLY PAYS TRIBUTE TO THE LEGENDARY ALL BLACK
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.