The greatest second-rows of all time: Colin Meads
Sir Colin Meads, through his rugby achievements, is honoured as probably New Zealand’s greatest living citizen as well as the greatest All Black of them all
Major teams: King Country
Country: New Zealand
Test span: 1957-71
Test caps: 55 (55 starts)
Test points: 21 (7T)
Between 1957 and 1971 he set a world cap record by appearing in 55 Tests, including New Zealand’s 17-Test winning streak between 1965 and 1969, and in all played 133 times for the All Blacks, a national record that stood for more than 40 years.
For his hardness and implacability he was appropriately known as ‘Pinetree’. Meads put his strength down to the demanding outdoor life of his hillside stock farm at Waitete in the King Country. His arms were longer than average, giving him a physical advantage levering the ball free from mauls, and he was so versatile that in his youth he played Tests at flanker and No 8. On the hoof, flourishing the ball in one hand, he was a fearsome sight.
Today’s TV scrutiny would have compelled him to rein in the darker side of his game. At Murrayfield in 1967 he became only the second player to be sent off in a major Test, and his enthusiasm for removing bodies on the wrong side of a ruck outraged Aussies when he dragged their captain, Ken Catchpole, with such brute force that the brilliant Wallaby was compelled to prematurely retire from rugby.
But Meads could also take the rough stuff. When his head was lacerated by a French boot in 1967 he played on, and when his arm was broken by a kick in South Africa in 1970 he again played on. No player had such a high pain threshold.
It was Barry John who put Meads’s standing as a rugby player in context. “A hundred years from now,” the Wales and Lions legend wrote, “when men are discussing the all-time greats, Colin Meads will always be near the top of the list.”