Colin "Pinetree" Meads was more than just the most famous forward in world rugby throughout the 1960s. He was the personification of the archetypal All Black, combining pride with vigour, applied both to the fortunes of his team and his own individual performance within it. His playing ability was beyond question. The supreme competitor in the lineout, he was also a fearsome sight as a mobile ball-carrier to the very end of his long career. Many believe he was the greatest player, in any position, of his generation. All agree that he was amongst the finest forwards of the century.
Colin’s first appearance in international rugby was during the All Blacks’ tour of Australia in 1957. He won his first two caps there as a flanker, scoring a try in the second test at Brisbane. He was already carrying the ball in one hand as he made huge inroads into opposition defences. He soon played his first game as a test lock, again against the Wallabies in the following year, but he continued to alternate between three positions for his first eight seasons in All Black colours. At the same time, a series of colossal confrontations with other great locks unfolded Rhys Williams for the 1959 Lions; Johan Claassen in South Africa the following year; in later years, Willie John McBride, Frik du Preez, and the Frenchmen, Elie Cester and Benoit Dauga. In all of them, he recognised kindred spirits who gave or asked no quarter. Pinetree, though, was the undisputed standard by which they were all judged.
Along with his many playing skills, Colin Meads gave the impression of indestructibility. Never was this more apparent than in South Africa. On his first tour there as a 24 year-old in 1960, he played in a remarkable 20 out of 26 games. Ten years later, now the elder statesman, Colin’s left forearm was fractured against Eastern Transvaal (Terry McLean called it. The break that shook the world.) It was his fifth game in 17 days, but surely now his tour was over? Less than 5 weeks later C E Meads, protected by a leather guard on his arm, returned as captain in an up-country match at George and duly played in nine of the final ten tour matches. The series was lost but McLean reassured all New Zealand that the Pinetree grows again.
He made a then world record 55 internationals for New Zealand, 47 of those at lock, after making his debut on the 1957 All Black tour to Australia as a flanker. His international career spanned three decades, his final appearance in an All Black jersey coming during the 1971 Lions tour to New Zealand.
That earned him a severe reprimand from the New Zealand rugby authorities although it did not prevent him managing the All Blacks from 1994 to 1995, including during the 1995 Rugby World Cup.