Originally posted by All Blacks.com
It is a measure of the fame Colin Meads achieved in New Zealand and beyond that for most of his life he was immediately recognisable by the nickname bestowed on him by his team-mate Kevin Briscoe on the 1958 tour by the national under 23 team's tour of Japan: Pinetree. And no nickname was more apt because for nearly 14 years in All Black rugby Meads, firstly as a siderow forward but more constantly as a lock, was a towering presence, one of the best and most inspiring players New Zealand rugby has known in any position.
Throughout the 1960s, a golden era in All Black rugby, Meads became the personification of the New Zealand style of the game. He was rugged and uncompromising and as the All Black prototype he quickly became a genuine folk hero. A farming product of backblocks New Zealand, Meads epitomised the nation and the rugby of his era, one which is in stark and somwhat nostalgic contrasts to the way the game and society with it has evolved under professionalism.
For Meads was to achieve his status as a rugby icon while always playing at representative level for his small, rural-based provincial union, King Country.
Meads was no bigger than many of his contemporaries and at at about 1.92m and around 100kg he would be regarded as too small as a lock for modern rugby. But he always gave the impression of being a giant and he complemented his natural athleticism with a rare ferocity.
Inevitably he had the reputation of being what euphemistially is called "an enforcer" and certainly he was involved in his share of controversial incidents and in 1967 he became only the second All Black ordered off in a test when Irish referee Kevin Kelleher dispatched him for dangerous play against Scotland at Murrayfield.
For many years, too, he was seen as a villain by Australians because they believed that his reckless action in trying to pull Wallaby halfback Ken Catchpole from a ruck prematurely ended that player's career.
There were other occasions when Meads erred with an indiscreet punch. But for all that, while Meads would never be intimidated and was quick to take action if one of his team-mates was suffering from someone else's illegality, he was never a deliberately dirty player. Such was his power, commitment and determination he never really had to be.
Growing up on family farm near Te Kuiti, Meads emerged as an outstanding propect in the mid 1950s and in 1955, when just 19, played the first of his 139 matches for King Country. In his debut against Counties he showed early that he was a player who was slightly out of the ordinary. He not only scored a try but did something locks, certainly in those years, are not supposed to do: he dropped a goal.
In 1955 he was the biggest player in the New Zealand under 21 side which toured Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and which contained another soon to become an All Black immortal in Wilson Whineray. Meads played all eight matches, scored three tries and was recognised by the Rugby Almanack as one of the 1955 season's most promising players.
By 1956 Meads was on the brink of All Black honours, playing in national trials and for the North Island. While he was not risked, wisely perhaps because he was just 20, in the tests against the Springboks his promotion to the national side was by now a formality and in 1957 he was taken on the tour of Australia.
He played in ten of the matches and was capped in both the internationals against the Wallabies, though at that time, with Nev MacEwan and the veteran Tiny Hill preferred as the locks, he was frequently used as a flanker and even at No 8. Indeed, in the second test in which he scored the first of his seven international tries he did so from the wing, having been posted there in those days of non replacements from the flank for a temporarily injured Frank McMullen.
From 1957 onwards Meads was pretty much an automatic All Black selection though there were the odd interruption to his sequence of test appearances. He missed, for instance, the first test against the British Lions in Dunedin in 1959 and paid the penalty for some lacklustre form by being left out of a test against the Wallabies in 1962. Ironically, his replacement then was his younger brother, Stan.
Meads had an outstanding tour of South Africa in 1960, among other notable deeds scoring the try which clinched the second test win. By now he was established as a lock and over the next decade, mainly with MacEwan and his brother Stan but also with Ron Horsley and Allan Stewart, he held a mortgage on a test spot.
In 1964 he returned briefly to No 8, for a test against the Wallabies, but that match was lost 20-5 and the experiment was never repeated.
In 1963-64 Meads had another phenomenal tour, being one of the stars of the formidable pack fielded on the tour of Britain and France. He and other champion forwards such as Kel Tremain and Ken Gray were then to be the basis of the side which claimed series wins in 1965 and 1966 over the Springboks and the Lions and then on another successful British tour in 1967.
Meads was made vice captain of the All Blacks for the 1970 tour of South Africa and though he was 34 it seemed he was poised on another triumphant tour. Unfortunately, his arm was broken early in the tour and though he recovered and appeared in the final two tests he was not quite the force of old.
In 1971 he led an inexperienced All Black team to a narrow series loss to the Lions and that was to be the end of his long and illustrious career. Near the end of 1971 he injured his back in a car accident and though he recovered and was available if required for the 1972-73 tour of Britain and France he does not appear to have been seriously considered as an option.
Of the 361 first class matches in which Meads played from 1955 to 1973 133, including 55 tests, were for the All Blacks. He was the first to reach a half century of tests and while that figure has become commonplace with the growing number of tests, in Meads' career it was a colossal feat and considerably more than any of his playing contemporaries. Had he played in the modern professional era with at least 12 tests a year Meads would easily have exceeded 100.
In 1973 he appeared in two President XV matches against the All Blacks in games which were billed, albeit unofficially, as his farewell to New Zealand rugby. At Athletic Park the Meads-led President's XV upset the All Blacks then led by Ian Kirkpatrick.
His biography was dubbed "Colin Meads, All Black," a simple ***le but one which seemed apt because by then it was being widely recognised that no one player better embodied the special ethos of the black jersey or wore the silver fern with more innate pride. The biography writted by Alex Veysey became a best seller, another reflection of Meads' vast popularity.
After his retirement Meads turned to administration and coaching. He became chairman of the King Country union and during his term the representative side had a lengthy spell in the NPC first division. After selecting and coaching North Island sides he was elected to the national selection panel in 1986.
This turned out to be a brief appointment, though, for without the permission of the New Zealand union he opted to go on the unauthorised Cavaliers tour of South Africa as coach. He was axed from the panel and for a time was persona non grata to the NZRU hierarchy.
However, as with just about all the Cavaliers, Meads was soon forgiven and in 1992 was elected to the NZRU council which just six years before had chastised him. In 1994-95, including the World Cup tournament in South Africa in the latter year, he was the manager of the All Blacks.
When the NZRU council was replaced by a smaller board in 1996 Meads dropped out of administration. However, his legend has grown and increasingly as the game succumbed to professionalism Meads was seen by both media and public as a champion of the game's old values. He became a hugely successful and popular after dinner speaker winning applause and national headlines with some of his down to earth, home spun wisdom.
Meads received just about every honour the game bestowed, including membership of the International Hall of Fame and the New Zealand Sporting Hall of Fame. There was no dispute when at the end of the 1999 The New Zealand Rugby Monthly magazine proclaimed him the New Zealand Player of the Century and in the New Year Honours list of 2001 he was made a New Zealand Companion of Merit, the equivalent of the by then scrapped knighthoods.
As a sporting legend Meads is New Zealand's equivalent of Australia's Sir Donald Bradman or the United States of America's Babe Ruth.
Profile by Lindsay Knight
for the New Zealand Rugby Museum.
Nobody embodied the ethos of the All Black Jersey more than Colin Meads. Despite not playing in Rugby amatuer's era, without personal trainers, gyms and other luxeries todays Rugby Pros have the benefit of, he was still one of the fittst and strongest, there aren't many fitter forward's of his size, even in todays game... all this despite not stepping into a gym until 1995 (at age 59), Legend has it his off season training was to run up hills with a sheep under each arm.
This can be seen in the fact that he still holds the record for most All Black games with 133... not even Mr Indestructable Himself, Sean Fitzpatrick (Most New Zealand Test Caps) could beat it, only amassing 128. He even played a test match against South Africa with a broken arm.
Is the Greatest Player in the history of the Greatest Nation on Earth and a true New Zealand icon, up there with Sir Edmund Hillary, Sir Peter Blake, Rutherford and other legends.