Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
20 August 2017
I watched a lot of Colin Meads playing on the rugby field. I am of the age that can say that. Shamelessly I can say I loved the way Colin Meads changed the game for previously lumbering second row forwards, which I was myself, albeit at a club level only. Meads showed us all another way to play.
But having been paid to talk about rugby, and follow the bouncing in my career I modestly claim to be ablre to judge players of a certsain time and type against each other on the field of plzay.
In writing this piece (which first appeared this winter in 'NZTODAY' magazine) I only claim to be able to offer one man's opinion. So here goes with my reflections as swhere I feel Colin Meads sits in the Pantheon of New Zealand rugby stars.
[A further backgrounder; I once shook hands with and had a few beers with the great Billy Wallace of the 1905-06 All Blacks - which I mention only to emphasise how far back I can go to at least talking to old players and weighing up what their opinions were too.]
in 2016 I went on TV1’s breakfast show when it was confirmed the great man of the modern All Black rugby scene, Richie McCaw, had retired. The then Prime Minister John Key was on the same show being interviewed in his regular Monday slot. I was next on.
To finish Mr Key was asked to comment on McCaw's departure and reflect on his place in the game of rugby in New Zealand’s history. The PM replied along the lines that ‘Richie was the greatest’ and he gave good reasons to back up his view. Fair enough. One man's opinion.
I was on next, principally to also talk about McCaw. ‘Do you agree McCaw is now the greatest All Black?’ I was asked.
I think I spoke firmly when I said, ‘No I don’t. To me there are two men above McCaw – they are those who changed the way the game is played in the world. One is Colin Meads and the other - Jonah Lomu.
My rationale was that ‘before Meads came into rugby, physically big men ho wanted to play were automatically put into the forwards to push, scrum and jump in the lineouts. They did little else in the game, except perhaps to trudge to do the same thing at the next set play.
Colin Meads broke that mould. He was the first forward to run fast, athletically, with the ball in his hand, while dummying and swerving. Soon every team in the world had running forwards trying to be like Meads. They still do today.’
I also added that Lomu came out of the Meads manner of making change. Except that Jonah was the first athletic big man to be sent to play in the backs; now every team has Lomu lookalikes.
So Colin Meads in his time was a revelation in the way he played. It must be said he was not a saint or a perfect person, but young watchers of the game these days who see the grainy videotapes of him in action perhaps do not realise that brute play and physical domination, sometimes by force or intimidation, while not approved, often had to be a big part in your team’s chances of winning. That’s how life was then. There were no touch judge flags, no video replays, no TMO’s; just basic retribution handed out on the field if necessary.
Meads was very good at presenting his authority (or unorthodox ball-winning strategies as one writer called it) during any game he played.
But the other very significant thing I love about the Meads legacy is that when his time on the playing field was over in 1971 (and he was an All Black for 15 seasons) he continued to give so generously to the national game and its image.
It could be said that by the number of times he journeyed up and down the country talking rugby to clubs and sporting organisations, by entertaining people as one of the all-time great after-dinner speakers (always with a beer in hand), and helping those in need, via significant, worthy but sometimes tiny and insignificant charities, he perhaps gave more to his country than he may have given to his family or even himself. Colin Meads has made in his life an unaparalleled offering to everything near or around what is, some might say, just about following a bouncing ball.
What I saw in Te Kuiti with the unveiling of the statue of him this year, and with the opening of the Meads Brothers Exhibition which also honoured his brother Stan, then the afternoon’s ‘bit of a tribute do’ dinner (as it was lovingly but officially called), and the crowds blocking the street to see, touch and be near him one more time, was something this absolute fan will never forget.
It's only one man's view - but I say it's Meads #1, Lomu #2 and Richie McCaw for leadership, commitment and longevity, #3.
by Keith Quinn
Bob Barber ended his time with the All Blacks in Australia and Fiji; in his last four starting games he was no.8, flanker, lock and prop.
It was with great sadness but with a sense of inevitability that the famous Athletic Park ground in Wellington, New Zealand was pulled down in 2000. For over 100 years it had been known as the ‘Home of Rugby in New Zealand’.
Situated in the base of a high-sided valley running down to Cook Strait, Athletic Park was always in an exposed position, and was battered many times over the years by ferocious Wellington winds. The salty spray contributed to decay in the metallic stability of the double-tiered Millard Stand and after much local angst a decision was made to abandon the site for rugby and move to a new stadium in the city area of Wellington.
While there were many famous days on the superb playing surface, for both Wellington and All Black rugby, it is for its most infamous bad weather days that many remember Athletic Park most fondly.
The worst came in 1961 when the Wellington Rugby Union’s new pride and joy – the Millard Stand – was being ofﬁcially opened on the day of the France v New Zealand match. The southerly storm that weekend brought in winds gusting up to 80 mph (140 km/h) – one of the worst days in Wellington’s history. A large luxury liner, the Canberra, was so buffeted in Cook Strait that the ship could not enter the harbour, just a few miles away. Yet in this tempest a test match was played!
New Zealand won 5–3, with Don Clarke, the All Black fullback, kicking a sideline conversion that travelled across the wind in a crazy curving arc.
Athletic Park has also had its moments in the mud, no more so than in 1977 when the British Lions played the New Zealand Juniors. Not a single player from either side could be recognised at the end of the game.
But Athletic Park could be as effective a playing location as anywhere in the world and on its many top days, presented a ﬂat true ground and seating for the fans that was always close to the action. The record attendance was the 57,000 who crammed in to watch the second test between New Zealand and the British Isles in 1959.
New Zealand played its ﬁrst home test match at Athletic Park, against Great Britain in 1904. In the 1980s the All Blacks scored some handsome wins on the ground, including 42–15 v England in 1985, 46–15 v Argentina in the World Cup in 1987, and 49–12 v Argentina in 1989. In 1992 New Zealand beat a strong World XV 54–26 and in 1997 they posted the highest test score on the ground, beating Argentina by 93-8.
In its last years it became obvious that the facilities which are needed to service a modern rugby match were not all present at Athletic Park. It had very poor players’ changing rooms; there was one shabby function room and no permanent corporate boxes. And though there were some fierce debates about the ground’s future, the advantages of a new stadium in the city were overwhelming. The last test match was played on June 1999. Fittingly the All Blacks gave the old ground a great send off, beating France 54-7.
Which former Springbok test rugby captain won a Rugby World Cup winner's medal for Australia in 1999?