Colin Meads


Colin Meads was not merely the most famous All Black of his era. The Te Kuiti sheep farmer personified a rugged rural masculinity that evoked a bygone era even in his playing days.

Meads played 133 games for the All Blacks between 1957 and 1971, the last four as captain. In his 55 test matches (then a record) he scored seven tries. In 1999 he was named New Zealand Player of the Century and the International Rugby Hall of Fame rated him ‘the most famous forward in world rugby throughout the 1960s’. 

Meads was born in Cambridge in 1936 and grew up on the farm near Te Kuiti on which he spent his adult life. His playing style was physical and uncompromising. Like nearly all players prior to the professional era, he did not become rich playing rugby. Substitutes were not allowed for most of his career. During the 1970 tour of South Africa he broke his arm against Eastern Transvaal but continued playing. At the end of the match Meads muttered, ‘At least we won the bloody game.’

The nickname ‘Pinetree’ was given to him by team-mate Ken Briscoe when he toured Japan in 1958 with the New Zealand Under-23 team. At 1.92 m tall and tipping the scales at 100kg, Meads was not much bigger than many of his fellow players – the name was more a recognition of his overall presence. His son Glynn, who later played rugby for King Country, became known as ‘Pinecone’.

An unassuming man off the field, Meads took no prisoners on it and soon gained a reputation as an enforcer. In the pre-television replay era, every team seemed to have one. In 1967 he became only the second All Black sent off in a test, for dangerous play against Scotland at Murrayfield. In 1968 he ended Wallaby Ken Catchpole's career when he grabbed and wrenched the halfback's leg while he was pinned under a ruck.

In an urbanising society, Meads sometimes seemed like a caricature of the values of past generations of rural Pākehā men. His 1974 biographer reassured his readers that ‘Meads sees himself as an ordinary bloke with a farm to work, sheep to shear, land to be cleared, a cow to milk. As a bloke who loves a beer with his mates.’

After making his debut in 1955, Meads played his entire provincial career – 139 games – for King Country. He became an All Black on the 1957 tour of Australia, playing in both tests not in his preferred position of lock, but as a flanker and No. 8. He was an almost permanent fixture in tests until 1971, when he captained an inexperienced All Black team to their first series loss to the British Lions. Meads hung up his boots after two matches as captain of a President's XV against the All Blacks, an unprecedented honour. 

Meads was soon involved with administration and coaching in King Country. He became a coach and selector of North Island sides, then was briefly a national selector in 1986. A fervent supporter of sporting contacts with South Africa, he fell foul of the New Zealand Rugby Union when he went there that year as coach of the unauthorised Cavaliers team. In 1992 he was elected to the NZRU council. He was All Black manager at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa.

Meads's iconic status in New Zealand society was recognised in 2001 when he was made a New Zealand Companion of Merit (the equivalent of a knighthood). In 2009 the government reintroduced the former system of titles and Colin Meads accepted the title of ‘Sir’. He stated, however, that unlike his former team-mates Wilson Whineray and Brian Lochore, he didn't want to be addressed as 'Sir' . They, he argued, deserved the title as they were ‘perfect gentlemen’, whereas he was ‘a bit rougher’.

In later life, Meads was a prolific public speaker and appeared on television advertising products as diverse as tanalised fenceposts, deer velvet and a finance company that later failed.

In June 2017, Sir Colin Meads attended the unveiling in Te Kuiti of a larger-than-life bronze statue of himself with ball in hand. He died of pancreatic cancer two months later.

By Steve Watters; updated by David Green

Further information:

Colin Meads (NZ Rugby Museum)

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Posted: 10 Sep 2023

Colin Meads is simply the greatest rugby player I have ever seen in my lifetime and I was born in 1949.