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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 NZ Governor-General in 1931 was Lord Bledisloe. His donated trophy was decided in favour of NZ by 20-13 at Eden Park in Auckland.
Canterbury, Marlborough, Waikato, Auckland and New Zealand
6 internationals for New Zealand 1946–49
Fred Allen was one of the truly giant personalities of New Zealand rugby in the 30 years after the end of World War II. After being ﬁrst recognised as a star of the famous New Zealand Army team (the Kiwis) which toured Britain in 1945–46, he gained selection and the captaincy of his country in 1946. He was also made captain for two All Black tours, to Australia in 1947 and to South Africa in 1949, though he was dropped – at his own behest – for the ﬁnal two tests in 1949.
After his playing days were over, Allen continued to make a remarkable contribution to New Zealand rugby.
He became coach of the Auckland team and took it through one of the province’s greatest eras. Under Allen’s guidance, Auckland defended the Ranfurly Shield 25 times, then a record, between 1960–63.
From 1964 Allen progressed to selecting and coaching All Black teams. He and Charlie Saxton, his captain from the Kiwis 20 years before, formed a formidable managerial team behind the 1967 All Blacks in Great Britain. That side was unbeaten and is remembered as one of the best international teams to have visited Britain.
He retired as All Black coach in 1968 having had team which played in 37 games for 36 wins.
In his later years Allen continued to be a highly respected and recognisable personality in the game in New Zealand. He was knighted in 2010 and died in 2012, aged 92.
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