Thousands bid farewell to Meads

Legendary All Black Colin Meads was laid to rest in his hometown of Te Kuiti on Monday, with many past All Blacks among thousands of mourners in attendance at his funeral.

The former lock, who was widely regarded as New Zealand's greatest rugby player of the 20th century, battled with pancreatic cancer for over a year before passing away at the age of 81 at Te Kuiti Hospital on Sunday, August 20.

Meads' casket was taken for a last lap of the rugby field at Te Kuiti in a vintage casket and the majority of Te Kuiti's 4 000 residents lined the streets to pay respects to the man affectionately known as "Pinetree". 

New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English and All Blacks such as John Kirwan, Michael Jones and Frank Bunce were among the mourners who attended the funeral. 

Meads' brother Stan, who also represented New Zealand at Test level, said his older sibling, who was a renowned hardman, would have been humbled at the outpouring of grief in New Zealand since his passing. 

"This today is amazing," he told AFP. 

"I can just imagine Pinetree saying 'what the Hell's all the fuss about?'." 

Meads played 133 games, including 55 Tests, with the All Blacks from his international debut in 1957 until he retired in 1971. 

Following his retirement, he worked as a selector and manager, mentoring generations of players who played for the All Blacks. 

"I've lost a friend, New Zealand has lost an icon," said his former captain Brian Lochore. 

"Nobody has done more for New Zealand rugby, at any time in my view, than Colin." 

Lochore said Meads was incredibly skilful for a big man and revolutionised forward play by running the ball. 

He also said it was Meads' will to win which inspired his team-mates. 

"I could trust him to win the battle," added Lochore.

"No one ever beat Pinetree over 80 minutes, maybe for 50 or 55 but over 80 minutes Pinetree always won." 

New Zealand Rugby president John Sturgeon agreed, saying Meads played his part in helping to forge the winning culture that has made the All Blacks one of the most successful sporting teams in the world. 

Broadcaster Jamie Mackay told the funeral service that despite his prowess as a player, Meads remained down-to-earth, and described him as "the quintessential good Kiwi bloke". 

Mackay revealed that Meads was shy about his celebrity but used it to raise millions of dollars for charity.

He said Meads was a reminder of a bygone era in New Zealand rugby. 

"Colin's shearing shed was his gym, fence posts were his weights, repetition training was what he and Stan did on the end of a scrub cutter in the summer months," he said. 

"Match day hydration was half an orange at half time, there were no ice baths, only cold beers."

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