WELLINGTON, New Zealand— A crowd estimated at several thousand, including the New Zealand Prime Minister and high-profile rugby players, attended the funeral Monday of All Blacks legend Colin Meads.
Mourners packed the community hall in Meads’ tiny hometown of Te Kuiti and spilled over into an adjacent marquee in which the service was shown on large screens. Te Kuiti, with a population of less than 5,000, saw its population increase by almost half as crowds paid tribute to Meads, who played 55 tests among 133 matches for the All Blacks between 1957 and 1971.
He was voted New Zealand’s Rugby Player of the Twentieth Century.
Speakers included brother Stan Meads, with whom he played 15 tests, former All Blacks captain Brian Lochore, his daughter and grandchildren.
Meads, known by the nickname Pinetree, died Aug. 20, aged 81.
Lochore, who shared the honour with Meads of being knighted for services to rugby, said “we trusted each other and respected each other.
“No-one ever beat Pinetree over 80 minutes. Pinetree always won the battle,” Lochore said. “There was no prize for second as far as he was concerned.”
Lochore said Meads had skills which were ahead of his time and would likely have made him a star in the modern game. But he was a man of his time.
“The one massive difference was that modern players hydrate before the game and we hydrated after,” he said.
Stan Meads said his brother, Colin, was a humble man who would have been embarrassed by the fuss of Monday’s funeral. Meads will be buried in a black casket bearing his All Blacks number, 583, which was conveyed to and from the service in a black 1937 Plymouth hearse.
While Meads was famously rugged and uncompromising, speakers said he had a softer side, shown to his family and friends.
The notes for the service included a quote from Meads, who described himself as “a country hick in the big time.”
“It’s like everything in life,” Meads was quoted as saying, “if you try to be yourself and don’t try to be someone else, it all comes right.”