21 Aug 2017

'He laid the foundation for what it means to be an All Black'

10:02 am on 21 August 2017

Sir Colin Meads has been described as having "skills like a bat and the strength of a rhinoceros", as tributes pour in for the All Blacks rugby great.

Former All Blacks Sir Colin Meads (right) and brother Stan at the unveiling of the statue of Sir Colin in Te Kuiti.

Former All Blacks Sir Colin Meads, right, and brother Stan at the unveiling of the statue of Sir Colin in Te Kuiti. Photo: Photosport

Sir Colin died on Sunday, aged 81, after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He enjoyed a 15-year playing career and is widely regarded as the greatest All Black forward of all time.

Meads made his All Blacks debut aged 20 in the 1957 tour of Australia and was named as New Zealand's best rugby player of the 20th century.

He was the All Blacks captain when Laurie Mains, who later also coached the team, joined them in 1971. He said Meads had left a huge legacy for New Zealand rugby.

Laurie Mains

Laurie Mains Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"He was just such a great player. Arguably, the style of rugby he played back in his heyday, he could be in the All Blacks today playing the same rugby.

"He had skills like a bat and the strength of a rhinoceros, he was an incredible rugby player."

He said Meads continued to be held up as an All Blacks legend to the current crop of players.

"Every All Black will know all about Colin Meads and what he stands for and what he did in the game.

"He was huge, no bigger person took the field in world rugby than Colin Meads, such is the legacy that he left."

Another former All Blacks captain, Ian Kirkpatrick, said Meads would go down as a legend of the game.

Kirkpatrick said that when he made his All Blacks debut in 1967, Meads was at the peak of his career.

"He laid the foundation for any new guy coming in as to what it means to be an All Black - that's really stood with me.

"For that very reason, I have a huge gratitude to Pinetree for that. It set me on my All Black career and I don't think I could have started with someone better."

'Just an awesome man'

Current All Blacks captain Kieran Read said Meads would have dominated rugby in any era.

He said Meads set the template for modern players.

"He's an absolute legend, who probably would have stood out today. A forward who ran like a back, carried the ball in one hand, just an awesome man. I also had the pleasure to sit down with him a couple of times, and he wasn't shy in having a beer and having a good yarn. Just a top man to talk to."

Meads was a legend of the game whose legacy will never fade, according to All Black coach Steve Hansen.

Mr Hansen said Meads would always have a special place in New Zealand rugby folklore.

"It's always a bit sad when one of the big kauri trees falls and that's what's happened. So we've lost a good rugby man."

NZ Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said Meads' legacy extended far beyond the field, and he would be fondly remembered by New Zealanders for years to come.

Mr Tew said Meads was a huge figure both on the field and in the community, and his loss would be keenly felt in many quarters.

"He loved what the game did for people and for the communities they lived in, but he also was very, very committed to making the place that he lived in better. The work that he did after he finished playing, particularly in Te Kuiti, he's travelled for miles to support charities."

Prime Minister Bill English said he had been in touch with the Meads family to offer support.

He said it would be up to the Meads family to decide what kind of support they might need from the government, but it was important to acknowledge the life of a great New Zealander.

"Colin Meads represented something that was essentially Kiwi. He was a generous man with his time, thousands of people will feel like they knew him. It will be time for recognition of a great New Zealander."

'He was sort of an Ed Hillary in rugby boots really'

Colin Meads and Brian Lochore during a game between the All Blacks and Eastern Transvaal in 1970, location unknown.

Colin Meads and Brian Lochore during a game between the All Blacks and Eastern Transvaal in 1970, location unknown. Photo: Photosport NZ

Rugby journalist and historian Ron Palenski said Meads was one of the greatest All Blacks ever.

"He was sort of a Ed Hillary in rugby boots really."

Meads was involved in a number of charities and was the patron of the Rugby Foundation, which supports seriously injured players.

A former All Blacks captain Andy Leslie, the president of the foundation, said Meads drove from Te Kuiti to Auckland in March this year to attend the AGM, despite his illness.

"It was only until he became too unwell that he wouldn't go ... it would have been real hard work for him."

New Zealand Rugby Board chair Brent Impey has paid tribute to Meads for the unrivalled mark he left on the national game.

Mr Impey said Meads' exploits on the field were the stuff of folklore, and he was just as revered off the field.

Some locals have begun placing flowers at the statue of Meads in Te Kuiti. The unveiling in June this year was his last public appearance.

Waitomo District mayor Brian Hanna said Meads was a much-loved member of the Te Kuiti community. He said Meads helped many community groups and always accepted invitations to speak at fundraisers and other events.

"Even though he's a world-famous New Zealander, we were used to seeing him every day, whether it's at the supermarket or just in town.

"[He had a] huge impact, and of course he's left an indelible mark on not only our district, but the country as a whole."

Former prime minister Jim Bolger, who represented the King Country electorate, said Sir Colin would forever be one of the region's favourite sons.