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.”
The All Blacks began their defence of the William Webb Ellis Trophy...by beating England at Twickenham by 18-12.
Wellington, New Zealand
15 internationals for N. Zealand 1972–77
The Scottish TV commentator Bill McLaren best described this busy and talented All Black. He said that Batty went at his game like a ‘little buzz-saw’, and indeed he did.
Grant Batty was a rarity in All Black rugby of the early 1970s. He was a back (a wing mostly) who had genuine speed, aggression and inventiveness. Although small in stature, he was never one to step back from a physical confrontation, no matter how imposing his opponent might have been. Not everyone in New Zealand could cope with a player of his brilliance and physical approach, and although New Zealanders were more than grateful on several occasions for his feisty presence on the field, he was always regarded as controversial.
Batty was received in a similar light wherever he played in the rugby world. Cardiff crowds booed him when he played there with the All Blacks in 1972–73. He replied by playing brilliantly. South African crowds treated him the same way. Batty responded by showing immense courage and playing on even after sustaining a near-crippling knee injury. Such was his value to the All Blacks that they insisted on playing him in the tests even though he had to run about with a metal cast hidden under his knee bandages.
Sadly, Batty’s knee problems became so bad he was forced out of rugby at the age of 25.
Controversial he might have been, but the crowds in New Zealand and elsewhere always flocked in to watch Batty.
He later shifted to Australia and by the 1990s had begun a long-term association on the coaching staff of the Queensland Reds team and other club sides.
How many All Blacks played for New Zealand in 2013?