Pinetree remains Kiwi immortal

It was fitting the All Blacks whacked Australia 54-34 in their Sydney Bledisloe Cup rugby test on the eve of Sir Colin Meads’ death.

Being a proud New Zealander and one of the game’s true legends, that win would have put a smile on his dial. However that fierce furrowed frown would have emerged in the second half when the Wallabies outscored his favourite team four tries to two.

Full credit for the Aussies gritty fight back after trailing 45-6 with a half-hour to play. But it didn’t say a lot for the All Black reserves who, under coach Steve Hansen’s reign, usually make a storming finish.

Still that first half was near perfection in amassing six tries through smart execution with Aaron Smith and Beauden Barret combining sweetly, Ryan Crotty running great lines and Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith all class on the wings.

Having started by misfiring with two offloads, Sonny Bill Williams recovered to run straight and hard.

It hasn’t been an easy year for him, starting late after recovering from the Achilles injury he suffered at the Rio Olympics. And being ordered off in the second test loss against the British and Irish Lions would have hurt his pride knowing it allowed the tourists to draw the series against his disappointed team-mates.

However, with a try and an assist, he had been a major contributor to the Blues’ triumph against the Lions and one suspects his best is still to come.

Meanwhile praise for will o’ the wisp fullback Damian McKenzie who celebrated his first test try against an outclassed Australian backline until Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau and super sub Tevita Kuridrani carved through with some scything runs in the second spell.

Meads would have applauded the sterling work of All Black locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock and appreciated the improvement shown by Joe Moody in what was his finest test.

As a bloke who was a loose forward before becoming the world’s greatest lock, he would also have been impressed with the power and pace of No 6 Liam Squire who ably filled the big boots of veteran Jerome Kaino.

Farmer “Pinetree” Meads was not much heavier than 100kg in his playing days but, to rugby supporters of my amateur era, he was “the greatest”.

While most of today’s fans have switched that honour to Richie McCaw, I cannot separate them and can only speculate just how much better Meads would have been as a fulltime professional away from his Te Kuiti farm.

Hard, fast and immensely strong, his courage was highlighted when he played in South Africa with a broken arm.

A gentleman off the field, he was a ruthless, feared executioner on it who wasn’t above delivering the occasional crunching punch. However he never intentionally put the boot in despite once being ordered off against Scotland.

Still, it was amusing seeing him adopt the peace-making role when breaking up skirmishes when in 1971 he captained New Zealand to their historic one and only series loss against the British and irish Lions.

In terms of character, strength and skill, Sir Colin, like Everest conqueror Sir Edmond Hillary, will remain a unique Kiwi immortal whose memory will endure.

From a humble, hard-working farm boy, he became a national icon.

  • Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author

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