20 Aug 2017

Legendary All Black Sir Colin Meads dies

6:30 pm on 20 August 2017

The man widely regarded as the greatest All Black of all time has died at the age of 81.

Sir Colin Meads was the key forward in All Black teams for 15 years and continued to influence the game as a coach and administrator after retiring from playing. Sir Colin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August last year after six months of ill health.

Pine Tree was his nickname and though Colin Meads always insisted the name had nothing to do with his physique, it did suit a man who looked as if he could have been carved from a pine tree.

He was tall, craggy and lantern jawed. Supremely fit, he achieved peak physical condition by working on a sheep farm rather than in a gym.

Meads was the key player in All Black scrums from 1957 to 1971, playing 55 tests and 133 games for the All Blacks. Although modern players have played more tests, no-one else has played at the top level for 15 years in a row.

Off the field, gentle and shy, on the field Colin Meads was happy to admit he was no angel. He was more than capable of dishing out physical retribution on his opponents. In 1967 he became the first All Black in 40 years to be sent from the field.

Meads' toughness was epitomised by his decision in 1970 to continue to play on a rugby tour of South Africa despite having broken his arm.

He captained the All Blacks in his last series in 1971, but was not lost to rugby - he moved into coaching and administration.

Sir Colin Meads. Sir Colin Meads Tribute Dinner, SkyCity, Auckland, Wednesday 29th September 2010.

Sir Colin Meads Photo: Photosport

He was briefly an All Black selector in 1986, but was sacked when he agreed to coach the Cavaliers on a rebel tour of South Africa. He was a strong advocate of continuing rugby relations with South Africa during their years of apartheid.

Colin Meads never sought the spotlight although he did lend his name to charitable causes. In particular, the intellectually disabled and the Special Olympics.

He never lost the humility that endeared him to many - on being knighted in 2009, he said he wouldn't expect to be addressed as Sir Colin, and insisted he was accepting the title for the small King Country town of Te Kuiti where he lived all his life.

Prime Minister Bill English said that he had the privilege of getting to know Meads, and this was a sad day for New Zealand.

Colin Meads is survived by his wife Verna and five children, one of whom, Rhonda, played for New Zealand at netball.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs