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.”
He lived most of his life in the far flung East Coast of the North Island but grew to be honoured all over the rugby world.
La Voulte and France
14 internationals for France 1961–68
La Voulte and France
13 internationals for France 1964–68
La Voulte, Beziers and France
36 internationals for France 1982–93
As uncapped brothers Guy and Lilian surfaced in international rugby when both toured New Zealand with France in 1961.
Poor Lilian, one of the victims of the heavy early-tour loss to Waikato, was one of the three halfbacks for the 13-match tour and, though he was never injured, that was his only match.
He went on to play 13 internationals between 1964 and 1968, only once on a losing French side.
Flyhalf Guy played one test on the 1961 tour, the first of his 14 internationals, of which France won 10 and drew one. He scored 113 international points, including the France Five Nations championship’s record of 32 in 1967. He dropped a record five goals (in three matches) that season.
Guy’s son, Didier, also reached international level as a flyhalf, in 1982, 14 years after his father’s career had finished. Didier was a brilliant goal-kicker, setting a world record of 30 points in one game, in France’s World Cup match with Zimbabwe at Auckland in 1987. He was something of a curiosity – he played most of his internationals wearing a full hair-piece.
Didier was France’s vital goal-kicking and tactical flyhalf in the 1991 Rugby World Cup, appearing in three of France’s four games. An injury prevented him playing in the important quarter final with England. France, missing Camberabero’s authority in the number ten jersey, tumbled to defeat.
Didier Camberabero at that point in time, became the highest scorer in French test history and the first Frenchman to pass 300 points in tests.
What was unique about the Hastings brothers, Gavin and Scott, when they made their debuts for Scotland?