Sir Colin Meads, who played 133 times for the All Blacks, including 55 Tests, was named by the New Zealand Rugby Union in 1999 as the All Blacks’ “Player of the Century”. No one, in New Zealand or elsewhere, disagreed. Usually playing lock, from the late 1950s into the early 1970s, he was a fierce “enforcer,” his towering stature winning him the nickname “Pinetree”, “Piney”, or often simply “Tree”.
He played in the undefeated All Blacks side which toured the Northern Hemisphere in 1967 – often described as the greatest rugby team of all time – during which a Welsh player reportedly said: “He is mean and surly, and direct contact with him has the same impact as a 10-megaton bomb.”
That physicality led to dark moments in his career. In 1966 he punched British Lion David Watkins; in 1968 Australian halfback Ken Catchpole’s career was effectively ended when he was torn from a ruck; in 1969 Welsh hooker Jeff Young suffered a broken jaw, courtesy of Meads.
Meads attempts to charge down a kick during a match against Leicester in 1967 (Getty)
His most infamous run-in with officialdom as a player was in 1967 when he was ordered from Murrayfield in the Test against Scotland. It was only the second time an All Black had been sent off and for almost half a century Meads lived with being the last Kiwi to suffer such a fate; not until Sonny Bill Williams was dismissed during the second Test against the Lions in July did he manage to shed that dubious accolade.
Sir Colin captained the All Blacks in the famous series against the Lions in 1971. The epitome of Kiwi rugby – a fearless, ferocious but off-the-field humble number five – he was also a driving force behind Maori rugby, helping to save the New Zealand all-Maori team (now known as the Maori All Blacks) from being axed in the 1990s. He became the national team manager in 1994 and the following year led them to the Rugby World Cup final in South Africa, where they were…