Wellington - Thousands of mourners, including a who's who of
past All Blacks, gathered on Monday to remember the legendary Colin Meads,
hailed as one of New Zealand's greatest ever rugby players.
A vintage hearse took Meads' casket for one last lap of the
rugby field at Te Kuiti, the tiny North Island town where he grew up and lived
until his death from cancer last week at the age of 81.
Most of the town's 4 000 residents lined the streets to pay
respects to the man affectionately known as "Pinetree".
Joining them for the funeral were Prime Minister Bill
English and All Blacks such as John Kirwan, Michael Jones and Frank Bunce.
Meads' brother Stan, himself a former New Zealand
international, said the towering lock with a hardman reputation would have been
humbled at the outpouring of grief in New Zealand since his passing.
"This today is amazing," he said. "I can just
imagine Pinetree saying 'what the Hell's all the fuss about?'."
Meads played 133 games, including 55 Tests, during his 14
years with the All Blacks until his retirement in 1971.
He then worked as a selector and manager, mentoring
generations of players to wear the famous black jersey.
"I've lost a friend, New Zealand has lost an
icon," his former captain Brian Lochore said.
"Nobody has done more for New Zealand rugby, at any time
in my view, than Colin."
Lochore said Meads had incredible skills for a big man and
revolutionised forward play by running the ball.
But he said it was his will to win that inspired his
"I could trust him to win the battle," he said.
"No one ever beat Pinetree over 80 minutes, maybe for 50 or 55 but over 80
minutes Pinetree always won."
New Zealand Rugby president John Sturgeon agreed, saying
Meads helped forge the winning culture that has made the All Blacks one of the
world's most successful sporting teams.
Broadcaster Jamie Mackay told the funeral service that
despite his on-field prowess, Meads always remained down-to-earth, describing
him as "the quintessential good Kiwi bloke".
Mackay said Meads was shy about his celebrity but used it to
raise millions of dollars for charity.
He said Meads, who maintained a small sheep station
throughout his career, was a reminder of a bygone era in New Zealand rugby.
"Colin's shearing shed was his gym, fence posts were
his weights, repetition training was what he and Stan did on the end of a scrub
cutter in the summer months," he said.
"Match day hydration was half an orange at half time,
there were no ice baths, only cold beers."