The nickname 'Pinetree' was given to him by a team-mate when he toured Japan in 1958 with the NZ Under-23 team. At 1.92m tall and 100kg, Meads was no bigger than many of his fellow players: the name was more a recognition of his overall physical presence. Colin didn't even step inside a modern gym until 1995, but many NZers will recall a tv ad featuring him striding nonchalantly over steep rural farmland with a telegraph pole over each shoulder!
Meads' playing style was physical and uncompromising. Like all players before the pro era, he didn't become rich playing sport. He also played in an era when substitutes were not allowed: during the 1970 South Africa tour, he broke his arm against Eastern Transvaal but continued playing. At the end of the match Meads muttered: "At least we won the bloody game." Exploits like this made him a folk hero.
After his debut in 1955, Meads played his entire provincial career, 139 games, for his home province of King Country. His All Black debut was on the 1957 tour of Australia. From then on he became an almost permanent fixture in the test line-up until 1971, when he captained an inexperienced All Black team to their first series loss to the British Lions. Meads hung up his boots following two President's XV matches against the ABs.
Meads then became involved with administration/coaching in King Country. He became a coach/selector of North Island sides before becoming a national selector in 1986, but fell foul of the NZ Rugby Union hierarchy when he went to South Africa in '86 as coach of the unauthorised Cavaliers team. Meads opposed the sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa, believing politics had no place in sport: as a result he was dumped as a national selector. But in 1992 he was back in favour again, being elected to the NZRU Council. He was All Black manager at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa.
In 1999 Meads was named NZ Player of the Century. He's also been inducted into the International Hall of Fame and the NZ Sports Hall of Fame. His iconic status in kiwi society was recognised in the 2001 New Year's honours list, being made a Distinguished Companion of the NZ Order of Merit. In 2009 he accepted the equivalent honour (a knighthood) and became Sir Colin Meads.
During Rugby World Cup 2011, Te Kuiti promoted itself as Meads' home town and even unofficially changed its name to 'Meadsville'. Colin loved it!
Rugby writer Lindsay Knight has described Meads as NZ’s equivalent of Australia’s Sir Donald Bradman or America's Babe Ruth as a sporting legend. It is curious then that the International Rugby Board still bypasses Meads for its Hall of Fame!
For many kiwis, this humble sheep farmer symbolises a bygone era of both NZ society and rugby.
They don't make 'em like 'Pinetree' any more! Happy birthday, Colin.