Mealamu on brink of exclusive '100 club'

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 09/10/2012
Keven Mealamu
Getty
READY FOR BATTLE: All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu.

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In two weeks, Keven Mealamu joins an exclusive group of All Blacks.

Only Richie McCaw and Mils Muliana reached the 100 test milestone before him. It takes not only ability but true professionalism on and off the field to boast that form of longevity.

Mealamu hasn't grown much, if at all, in height since debuting in 2002, but in stature and experience his presence has developed to the point of being invaluable.

Widely respected by his peers, Mealamu is the gentlemen of the All Blacks. But he's also a stronger believer in respect, strict protocol, and the foundations of the black jersey - as Aaron Smith discovered after a late night out in Wellington.

"It's a real privilege," Mealamu said of playing for the All Blacks.

For that reason, you can bet McCaw and co will be determined to honour the 33-year-old in the right manner. That means teaching the Wallabiesanother lesson to secure a clean sweep of the Bledisloe Cup and world record number of wins (17) for top tier nations.

"It's hard to put into words," Mealamu said. "You never think of playing 100 games for the All Blacks. It's always about trying to be here. When I finish my career I'll be able to look back on it. "It's a very elite group to be apart of. There's not many that have been able to achieve that. I've played with Richie and Mils for a long time; it's very special to join them."

The fiercely loyal hooker has come a long way from Tokoroa. It's hard to fathom now he starred in New Zealand age-grade teams at flanker.

He has seen off many rivals since then and rose to captain the Blues. Sharing the rake duties in the All Blacks with Andrew Hore, his closemate, has aided his ability to last in such a physically demanding role.

Mealamu's quick, nimble flanker feet are still evident, but the man that's move from the side to middle of the scrum has evolved his game, though his dynamic skill remains prevalent in broken play.

"I still get those butterflies when I run out onto the field," he said. "The only difference is I know what to expect. When you go into test rugby you're sort of lost in the hype a little bit. Now I know how difficult it's going to be out there. It's good to be able to draw upon those experiences."

Mealamu continues pass down those the lessons. It speaks volumes his two favourite jerseys, that sit framed alongside each other, are John Smit's 100th - the game where Israel Dagg broke the Springboks captain's heart in the dying seconds - and his first.

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Those were special moments for Mealamu and he hopes Brisbane is too.

"It will be an awesome occasion."

- Stuff

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