Colin ‘Pinetree’ Meads played 133 games for the All Blacks between 1957 and 1971. In his 55 test matches he scored seven tries and was captain on four occasions.
In 1999 he was named as New Zealand's Player of the Century and the International Rugby Hall of Fame rated him ‘the most famous forward in world rugby throughout the 1960s.’ For many New Zealanders, this humble sheep farmer has come to symbolise a bygone era of New Zealand society and rugby.
Meads was born in Cambridge in 1936 and grew up on a King Country farm. His playing style was physical and uncompromising. Like all players prior to the professional era he did not become rich playing rugby. He also played in an era when substitutes were not allowed. 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.’ Exploits like this made him a folk hero.
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 no bigger than many of his fellow players – the name was more a recognition of his overall physical presence. His son Glynn, who later played rugby for King Country, became known as ‘Pinecone’.
Meads gained a reputation as the team ‘enforcer’. This did not endear him to all. In 1967 he became only the second All Black ordered off in a test for dangerous play against Scotland at Murrayfield. Some also accused him of ending Wallaby halfback Ken Catchpole's career in 1968 when he grabbed and wrenched Catchpole's leg while he was pinned under other players in a ruck.
After making his debut in 1955, Meads played his entire provincial career – 139 games – for his home province of King Country. His All Black debut came on the 1957 tour of Australia. He played in both tests (not in his preferred position of lock but as a flanker and No. 8). From that point on he became an almost permanent fixture in the test line up until 1971 when he captained an inexperienced All Black team to their first series loss to the British Lions. Meads hung up his boots following two President's XV matches against the All Blacks. At Athletic Park Meads led the President's XV to victory over an All Blacks side led by Ian Kirkpatrick.
After hanging up his boots Meads became involved with administration and coaching in King Country. He became a coach and selector of North Island sides before becoming a national selector in 1986. He fell foul of the New Zealand Rugby Union hierarchy when he went to South Africa as coach of the unauthorised Cavaliers team. Meads opposed the sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa, believing politics had no place in sport. He was dumped as a national selector as a result. In 1992 he achieved some form of redemption when 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 the 2001 New Year's honours list. 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 ‘Sir’. He stated that he didn't want to be called 'Sir' like other rugby knights and team-mates Sir Wilson Whineray and Sir Brian Lochore. They, he argued, deserved the title as they were ‘perfect gentlemen’, whereas he was ‘a bit rougher’.
By Steve Watters