New Zealand’s mighty ‘Pinetree’ has fallen as Colin Meads dies

Tributes flow for the towering lock and hardman, who dies aged 81 after battling pancreatic cancer

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 August, 2017, 8:12pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 August, 2017, 8:15pm

All Black great Colin “Pinetree” Meads, a legendary hardman who helped give New Zealand rugby its edge, died on Sunday, aged 81, after battling cancer.

The towering lock was an automatic selection during a golden era of All Black rugby, ­inspiring fear and admiration in opponents over a 55-test career spanning 14 years from 1957-71.

But it was Meads’ humble persona, as much as his ferocity, that saw him lionised in his homeland.

He maintained a small sheep station throughout his career, epitomising the amateur-era All Black ideal of a grizzled farmer who could stride off the paddock and on to the rugby field to beat the best in the world.

“Colin Meads is probably the most iconic New Zealander I can think of,” then prime minister John Key said in August 2016, when Meads revealed he had pancreatic cancer.

“He’s a great man and the nation loves him dearly.”

Meads, nicknamed Pinetree because of his lanky 1.92 metre frame, was a one-club player, only ever representing his beloved King Country at provincial level.

Internationally, he was part of the all-conquering All Blacks who won 17 consecutive tests from 1965-69, a world-record feat only bettered by the team’s 2016 ­edition almost 50 years later.

He played for the All Blacks 133 times, a number only exceeded by modern-day great Richie McCaw.

Meads retired in 1971 after captaining the All Blacks against the British & Irish Lions.

In 1999, he was named New Zealand’s player of the century and was later knighted, then ­inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2014.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew called Meads “a true legend of the game”.

His reputation for toughness was enhanced when he broke an arm in South Africa, playing against Eastern Transvaal in 1970, going on to complete the game and finish on the winning side.

He treated the injury himself using horse liniment, missing the first two tests, but ­returning for the third and playing with his arm protected by a thin guard.

He also became only the ­second All Black in history to be sent off when Irish referee Kevin Kelleher dismissed him for ­dangerous play during a 1967 win against Scotland.

After announcing a year ago that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer after feeling “crook” (sick) for six months, he asked for privacy as he fought the disease.