Sunday, 19 September 2010

No gym for Colin Meads !

Meads' fitness - there has never been a fitter forward of his size - was due to his lifestyle and mental strength.

He didn't even step inside a modern gym until 1995, aged 59, although he occasionally tried weights training with his brother Stan (also an All Black lock). As for swimming, Meads would not be seen dead in a pool during the season. "It softened up and relaxed your muscles," he said. "If I was sore after a game, I'd go for a jog."

I am currently living in Colombo, Sri Lanka and happened to walk past the ground that Colin Meads played on in 1955 when he was a member of the New Zealand under 21 side which toured Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He played all eight matches, scored three tries and was recognised by the Rugby Almanack as one of the 1955 season's most promising players

As I walked past I thought of this brilliant player who  is widely considered as  one of the greatest players in history. Nicknamed 'Pinetree', he is an icon within New Zealand rugby, and was named the country's Player of the Century at the NZRFU Awards in 1999.

Meads is so gloriously the antithesis of the model preferred by modern-day rugby gurus, and so manifestly better than almost anybody playing in the new 'scientific' era, that perhaps we should pause to ponder who is right and who is wrong. He would be a megastar in the modern game - but in an anti-hero way, driving coaches and directors of rugby insane.

Rugby legend Sir Colin Meads arrives with the Meads Cup at the start of the Heartland Championship Meads Cup Final match between Mid Canterbury and Wanganui at Rugby Park on October 31, 2009 in Christchurch, New Zealand...

He didn't even step inside a modern gym until 1995, aged 59, although he occasionally tried weights training with his brother Stan (also an All Black lock). As for swimming, Meads would not be seen dead in a pool during the season. "It softened up and relaxed your muscles," he said. "If I was sore after a game, I'd go for a jog."
Meads never bothered with warm-ups. Indeed, an old superstition meant that he wouldn't change into his kit until half an hour before kick-off. "The haka was the only warm up I needed," he said.

"The greatest athletes and performers I saw were the local sheepshearers, people like Godfrey and Ivan Bowen, the world record holders, who could shear 400 ewes or more in a nine-hour shift," he explains. "They just rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in."

Energy drinks, electrolytes, water? "Hardly ever, maybe a quarter of orange at half-time if I was lucky. I am not convinced about the need to take liquids on board." It gets better with every question. Alcohol before a game? "Never on match day, but after most training sessions with the Blacks we liked to finish with two or three beers. That included the Friday lunchtime before a Saturday Test."

Meads' fitness - there has never been a fitter forward of his size - was due to his lifestyle and mental strength. He would flog himself at training, whether at Waitete RFC, King Country or the All Blacks.

The lifestyle on his Te Kuiti farm, meanwhile, was relentlessly rugged. The legend of him running up and down hills with a sheep under each arm is a false part of rugby mythology, but he would spend long days at the dipping pen

As a schoolboy, I saw him play on Crisbrook for the All Blacks against Australia in 1964, South ASfrica in 1965 and the British Isles in 1966. Unfortunately for us young school boys in 1959, when they played the British Isles and Don Clarke's boot gave us an undeserved win by 18 to 17, Colin Meads for some reason, didn't play.  I was stunned watching Meads play on Carisbrook, and on TV, for the way he used his strength, skill and courage to dominate forward play. We stood in awe of Colin Meads

On June 3 every year, a group of otherwise sane and respectable middle-aged men in Dunedin will gather after work in a downtown pub dressed in All Black No 5 shirts. Some will also be wearing retro leather scrum caps, circa 1965, while all will be clutching a dog-eared book with messianic fervour.

The fan club of the man they call 'Pinetree' have celebrated the occasion devotedly since 1979.

Harmless fun in a rugby-mad country, but not without social significance. The faithful meet not only to honour the greatest All Black - he gained the title in a nationwide poll in 1999 - but to celebrate a different era and different values.

Meads played his first game for King Country team in 1955, at the age of 19. Scoring a try, and even a drop-goal (an unusual feat for a lock), Meads impressed in his debut match.

In 1955 Meads was selected for the New Zealand under 21 side which toured Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He played all eight matches, scored three tries and was recognised by the Rugby Almanack as one of the 1955 season's most promising players. In 1956 Meads played in national trials and for the North Island, and in 1957 was selected for the tour of Australia. He played ten matches and made his test debut, playing both of the internationals against the Wallabies, scoring a try in the second. Although normally a lock, he played at flanker and number 8, and even wing (from where he scored a try), as the All Black team was strong on locks.

From 1957 until 1971 Meads was effectively an automatic All Black selection. The International Rugby Hall of Fame considers him to have been 'the most famous forward in world rugby throughout the 1960s'.[4] His strength and high threshold for pain became legendary — best illustrated when in a game against Eastern Transvaal in South Africa, in which he emerged from a particularly vicious ruck with his arm dangling horribly, with an obvious fracture, yet completed the match. When the doctor cut away his shirt and confirmed the break, Meads muttered, "At least we won the bloody game."

Meads had the reputation of being "an enforcer" and was involved in some controversial incidents. In 1967, he was sent off by Irish referee Kevin D. Kelleher for dangerous play against Scotland Murrayfield, and became only the second All Black suspended in a test match. The British Daily Telegraph newspaper said of the incident that 'For one with Meads' worldwide reputation for robust play, this was rather like sending a burglar to prison for a parking offence.' In Australia he is notorious for having ended the career of Ken Catchpole by pulling Catchpole's leg while he was pinned down, causing him serious injury.[6]

He captained the All Blacks a number of times - though never a regular captain, he holds the record[of longest period of captaincy (not consecutive games), from the first date (1960) he was appointed captain to the last match he captained (1971).

Colin Earl Meads was born to Vere Meads and Ida Meads (née Gray) on 3 June 1936, in the village of Cambridge in the Waikato region. His father Vere was a descendant of early settlers Joseph Meads and Ann Meads (née Coates), who emigrated to New Zealand from England in 1842. Vere’s grandfather Zachariah Meads was among the first British children to be born in Te Aro, Wellington, in 1843, and his grandmother Elizabeth Meads (née Lazare) was the daughter of an Irish minister who had educated freed slaves on the island of Mauritius before emigrating to Wanganui.

He and  his wife Vere raised their three children on a sheep farm near Te Kuiti. Meads credits the farming lifestyle for his strong physique and high level of fitness. Meads' brother Stanley Meads was also a noted rugby player, playing 30 matches as an All Black. In 11 matches Stanley and Colin locked the All Black scrum.

Last Saturday was "Old Timers" rugby reunion day inWellington and Barry Donovan told a great yarn about Colin "Pinetree" Meads, known in some more formal circles – but not in the King Country, I imagine – as Sir Colin.
The last time I spoke with Pinetree was at Melbourne Airport at the ridiculously early hour of 6.30am on the Sunday morning after the All Blacks thrashed the Wallabies the night before. I thought I recognised the rugged head and torso sitting behind me in the cafe and, as I'd played against him in one memorable game, went across and said: "Excuse me, but aren't you Colin Meads?"

The tough old campaigner lifted his gaze and – fortunately, for he could have said a number of things after a celebratory night – replied: "Yeah." So I quickly responded:

"Colin Meads – you're a legend!"

The last time I'd exchanged a few words with the living legend was after a game between a Wellington XV and the Meads-led King Country at Taumarunui in the mid 60s. The King Country crew were very annoyed that Wellington had not sent its No1 side but had sent basically a side consisting of promising younger players and a few old stagers.

The fired-up home team ran away with the first half and it was only during the second half that Wellington regained some respectability, but still lost.

But my biggest single memory of the game was when Pinetree took off from a lineout in the move that the world's inside backs feared most – a stampeding Colin Meads with ball in hand heading straight for you.

What does an 11-stone first-five do, apart from pray for survival and deliverance from any rugby gods favouring little blokes? I decided that rushing at Pinetree's knees head-on would be completely suicidal so instead I dived at the ground in front of him hoping the big bugger would trip over me somehow.

And it worked! As Meads half stumbled over a prostrate Donovan the other Wellington backs all climbed aboard him and yes – just like a falling pinetree – the King Country icon staggered a few more yards and fell – crash.

I FELT a little foolish after the game but went and shook hands with the mighty man in his changing shed where he kindly said that they had the fastest loose forward around but he still hadn't been able to get a hand on me. Thanks, Sir Colin.

Moving on to Sunday, August 1 last month at Melbourne Airport, Colin Meads and I had an engaging chat about the previous night's test match, which had included the controversial sending off of Wallabies' winger Drew Mitchell, reducing the home team to the absurd position of playing one short against the best rugby team in the world.

Naturally I had to refer to the "man of the match", All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, who had played yet another blinder and must be worth at least 10 points to his side through leadership by example alone. In some amazement, with a shaking of the head, Colin Meads replied that McCaw "just keeps getting faster".

Obviously there were memories of some of his 1960s comrades slowing down as time went by.

When talk turned to the unfortunate imbalance of 14 against 15, particularly in an international test match, and the regrettable rugby rule of a referee sending off a player for a second offence, my mind suddenly turned to another unforgettable rugby occasion where both Colin Meads and I had been involved.

It was late 1967 and the final UK test match against Scotland at Murrayfield. I was covering the game and providing a commentary for the newly established Dominion Sunday Times. Because of the time difference, I had to make a telephone call to Wellington at 2.30am, NZ time, and no later as the edition was ready to roll.

To make matters worse, all the phone lines in the Murrayfield press box had been taken up by the major British dailies and I had to arrange to make my call from a public box just outside the ground. The All Blacks established an early dominance and were never really threatened but the game was delayed occasionally and I was forced to head for the outside phone box with five minutes to go.

AS I approached the box a mighty roar went up from the Murrayfield crowd but I thought that even if Scotland had scored the All Blacks would still win. I rang straight through to Wellington and to my amazement the editor said: "What did Meads do? What did he do?"

"What did Meads do?" was my bewildered reply.

"Yeah, why did the ref send him off?"

Colin Meads was just the second All Black to be sent off in Britain after Cyril Brownlie in 1924 against England and I had been running to a bloody Scottish phone box and missed it! Good God!

A benevolent editor (Jack Kelleher) did accept my pathetic timing and public phone box excuse and allowed me to cover the All Blacks winning match against the Barbarians back in London which gave them the "grand slam" but it was one of those agonising newspaper reporting moments you definitely never want repeated.

Just as this unforgettable memory flashed through my mind, the Melbourne Airport waitress called out "two toasted sandwiches ready and waiting". Pinetree snapped to attention, mentioning that he was feeling slightly poorly after a big night, and some early morning tucker wouldn't go astray.

Standing up, the mighty Meads still looked as formidable as ever and you certainly wouldn't want to get between him and two toasted sandwiches. I forgot about Murrayfield, thanked him for his time, and left him to knock over breakfast.

Thanks to  Brendan Gallagher of the Telegrapgh, UK for some of his statitics and interviews he had with Colin and for the Dominion Post's permission to use excerpts from Barry Donovan's articl.


joe lowry said...

Kevin Kelleher was my Headmaster. And a right wanker.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Joe, I am sure you have met many wankers in your time and we currently work with a few.

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