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.”
And on a damp Friday the ABs passed 50 points in a test for the first time; they beat Italy 70-6 with John Kirwan running 75 metres to score, untouched.
Counties and New Zealand
35 internationals for New Zealand 1977–85
In his time he was New Zealand’s most-capped hooker, Dalton was also the son of an All Black vice-captain (Ray Dalton in 1949).
Andy Dalton did not make his debut for New Zealand until he was 26, but thereafter maintained his place until the World Cup in 1987, when bad luck hit his cup aspirations.
After being named as New Zealand’s captain for the series, he was struck down by a hamstring muscle injury and did not play. Instead, he watched as his replacement, Sean Fitzpatrick, took over and established himself as one of the top players of the series. Even after he had recovered, Dalton could not win back his place in the New Zealand team. He was reserve for the last three matches.
At the start of his career Dalton became New Zealand’s hooker in 1977, taking over from Tane Norton, who had previously played 27 consecutive internationals in that position. Dalton played 35 tests, so only a handful of players played test matches in the No. 2 jersey for the All Blacks over a period of 20 years.
In the absence of Graham Mourie in 1981, Andy Dalton became New Zealand’s test captain for the controversial series against the Springboks. He soon built a reputation as an excellent leader on the field and a diplomatic and sincere one off it. There were many in New Zealand who felt that when Mourie returned later in 1981 Dalton should have continued as captain.
Dalton again took over the leadership after Mourie retired, and captained the team for the test series against the 1983 British Isles, the All Blacks beating the Lions comfortably by four tests to nil. Apart from the times he declared himself unavailable, Dalton maintained the captaincy until the end of his playing days, leading his country in 17 tests for 15 wins.
He was named captain of the New Zealand team to tour South Africa in 1985 but, when that tour was cancelled following court action, he was denied the chance to follow in his father’s footsteps and play in an All Black team in South Africa.
In 1986 Dalton joined the rebel Cavaliers tour of South Africa as the tour captain and it would be true to say that his involvement in the secrecy surrounding the setting up of the tour, and his association with it, cost him something in terms of public acceptance and popularity.
On their return home, Dalton and the other Cavaliers were banned by the NZRFU for two test matches, a decision which arguably did not affect Dalton as he was out with injury anyway – from a badly broken jaw received on the tour.
Andy Dalton played a significant role in New Zealand rugby, as a forerunner in embracing the style of a busy loose forward, without neglecting the tight forward play of a hooker. He was an expert striker for the ball in scrums and an accurate thrower to the lineouts. He was the first New Zealand hooker to become the lineout thrower. Before Dalton, that job was done by wings.
Dalton was one of the All Black front row trio – together with props John Ashworth and Gary Knight – to be nicknamed the ‘Geriatrics’. They played their first test match together in 1978 and their last in 1985 – 20 tests in all.
In the years after his playing days Andy Dalton has played a significant role as the Chief Executive Officer of the Blues professional rugby franchise.
In which town or city was the first international rugby match played in Wales?