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.”
A dramatic day & a tough match but a 15-12 South Africa win over the All Blacks. Their captain Francois Pienaar received the World Cup from his President Nelson Mandela.
Birkenhead Park, and England
3 internationals for England 1900
Respected as a diligent and determined administrator in England, but reviled in New Zealand as the man who stole the All Blacks’ birthright, ‘Bim’ Baxter holds a key place in rugby history.
Already a member of the IRB, and England team manager to Argentina in 1927, Baxter was appointed manager of the 1930 British touring team to New Zealand and Australia.
There he was outspoken, to say the least, in his denunciation of the New Zealand wing forward position. Baxter stated the wing forward was ‘nothing more than a cheat’, and his influence on the world scene led to the framing of laws which effectively stamped out the two-man front row, and with it the wing forward position.
Baxter was also highly critical of the game of rugby league. When being shown the sights of Auckland, Carlaw Park, the local rugby league ground, was pointed out to him. Baxter offered a quip that has always been quoted by Kiwi league followers when their rivalry with rugby union is discussed. Baxter said of the park, ‘Every town must have its sewers.’
Baxter was an international referee on nine occasions and was on the IRB from 1926–39. A silver medal-winning yachtsman at the 1908 Olympics, Baxter was also involved in golf and rowing.
How many players of Samoan-birth or Samoan heritage have captained the All Blacks in tests? Name them.