Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
3 September 2014
ATHLETIC PARK in Wellington, New Zealand, was a much loved headquarters of the game in the Capital city for over a 100 years. It was finally closed in 1999 and the game in Wellington shifted to the Westpac Stadium in the city centre.
Everyone who played on Athletic Park's surface in its heyday had favourite memories. Here are those of the great lock forward Colin Meads.
MEADS ON ATHLETIC PARK:
He first played for the All Blacks there in the first test match against Australia in 1958. His last game there was in 1973 for the NZRFU’s president’s XV when they beat the All Blacks on their internal tour.
In all Meads played ten test matches on Athletic Park, a record for a New Zealand player and as the ground is no longer in operation his record will not be broken.
“‘From a New Zealand point of view it was my favourite test ground,’ Meads said. ‘Everything seemed to go right there. The ground had such an atmosphere, and was the one I had most success at.’
Meads played in seven winning tests on the park, his other games being a 9-all draw with Australia in 1962, a 20-5 loss to Australia in 1964 and a 13-3 loss to the British Lions, as captain, in 1971.
Meads witnessed two of the best-remembered moments on Athletic Park: All Black fullback Don Clarke’s sideline conversion in a southerly gale in 1961, which helped the All Blacks to a 5-3 win, and Pierre Villepreux’s massive penalty goal for France in 1968, when the All Blacks won 9-3. “‘It was unbelievable, Clarkie kicked it straight across the field and it went over,’ Meads said. ‘Don was pretty confident he’d judged it right, but really it was the biggest bloody fluke around.’
For Villepruex’s kick, some estimates put its distance at well over 60m Meads doesn’t argue. “To me it sounded like about 70 yards. When he lined it up the crowd was laughing and we were saying ‘what a joke.’ But over she went. It cleared the bar with a bit to spare too. Bloody amazing.”
Colin Meads test record on Athletic Park; 1958-71
1958 beat Australia (1st test) 25-3
1959 beat British Isles (2nd test) 11-8
1961 beat France (2nd test) 5-3
1962 drew with Australia (1st test) 9-9
1964 lost to Australia (3rd test) 5-20
1965 beat South Africa(1st test) 6-3
1966 beat British Isles (2nd test) 16-12
1967 beat Australia (75th Jubilee test) 29-9
1968 beat France (2nd test) 9-3
1971 lost to British Isles (3rd Test) 13-3
When the last test match was played on Athletic Park (New Zealand beat France 54-7, 26 June 1999) Colin Meads was asked for his most vivid recollections;
Best Memory; “My greatest memory of playing there was when I captained the President’s XV against the All Blacks in 1973. It was a farewell for me and a great occasion…and we won the game!”
Worst Memory; “We got beaten there in 1964 by Australia. We had won the first two tests but lost the third 20-5 on Athletic Park. It was a thrashing and the last time I featured for the All Blacks as a loose forward.”
It was 145-17 in Bloemfontein. Marc Ellis scored 6 tries and Simon Culhane kicked 20 conversions. Plus from others there was a lot more!
MCBRIDE, WILLIE JOHN
Ballymena and Ireland
63 internationals for Ireland 1962–75
17 internationals for British Isles 1962–74
One of the outstanding figures of world rugby who, in his time, set a record for most international caps by an individual player, and who gained great respect as a leader.
During the latter days of his playing career, William James McBride became known, as ‘Willie John’. He was an imposing lock, immensely powerful in all aspects of forward play, who specialised in giving only good ball to his halfback whether from lineout, maul or scrum. He had enormous determination and his rivalries with other top players of his day, such as Colin Meads of New Zealand and Frik du Preez of South Africa, were worth traveling miles to see. Perhaps his greatest attribute was his ability to inspire others to play with equal dedication. Perhaps it was a commentary on rugby in its time that those three men became firm friends after their rugby days were over.
In his time McBride knew success: as pack leader for the 1971 Lions in New Zealand, as captain of the 1974 Lions in South Africa and as captain of Ireland in its first championship win in 23 years, in 1974. But he also knew defeat: 26 of his games for Ireland were losses. From those varying results McBride emerged as a player of true character and greatness. He never gave in. He was idolised at home and deeply respected abroad.
McBride, then known as ‘Bill’, began his international rugby as a lock for Ulster in 1960–61, marking the great South African, Johann Claassen, in a Springbok tour game. The young McBride was one of nine new caps brought in by the Irish selectors for the match against England in 1962. Even though he was not in the winning team that day, or indeed that season, he was chosen soon after, as a 21-year-old, for the British Isles tour of South Africa. His courage was epitomised that season when he played the last part of the game against France with his left tibia bone broken.
South Africa in 1962 was a baptism of fire. The young Ballymena man played in two tests: both were losses. He also suffered the pain of defeat in New Zealand in 1966 when the All Blacks wiped aside the Lions by four tests to nil. Two wins against Australia were small consolation.
In 1968, on the Lions tour to South Africa, McBride was again in the losing team, and it was not until 1971 in New Zealand that he smelt the sweetness of victory.
His ultimate performance was with the British team of 1974, which won its test series with the Springboks so dramatically. On that tour McBride, the captain, exhorted his men to ‘take no prisoners’. They reacted superbly to his leadership demands and did not lose a game on tour. Their three test victories, with a draw in the fourth test, represented the biggest humiliation for a major ‘home’ team in rugby history.
On that tour the cry ‘99’ was also used. It was said that McBride had previously suffered at the hands of All Blacks and Springboks in the physical side of the game. He was determined that there should be no more. Thus ‘99’ called for all his players to get alongside their team-mates and if necessary physically fight the opposition together. It was a controversial tactic but one which McBride and his team felt was necessary.
Between his Lions tours he added to his tally of Irish caps, building towards the massive total, in that time, of 63. His five Lions tours, three in all to South Africa and two to Australia and New Zealand, added another 17 caps, bringing his total to 80 caps. Thus he became the world’s greatest cap-winner, an honour he kept until his fellow Ulsterman Mike Gibson passed it in 1979.
In all his test matches McBride scored only one try, against France in his second to last game for Ireland.
After his retirement in 1975 he was, for a time, the Irish coach. In 1983 he was manager of the British Isles team in New Zealand.
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