Te Kuiti eventually unveils a statue of a 'bloody good bugger', Colin Meads video

CHRISTINE CORNEGE /Fairfax Media NZ

Family honour rugby legend as statue to Pinetree unveiled in Te Kuiti

As a dominant All Black locking pairing in the 1960s Colin and Stan Meads were great at hauling down lineout ball, yet on Monday a dinky piece of rope and a stubborn shroud caused them angst.

Their struggles raised the tension for several hundred scrums-worth of spectators crammed into the main street of Te Kuiti (Meadsville, if you prefer), all craning necks or peeking through a barrage of TV cameras, a first glimpse of the statue of the great All Black their aim.

Meant to fall away like an English fullback tackling the great Jonah Lomu, the shroud instead clung on in what a referee would have deemed a blatant head high.

Sir Colin Meads touches the rugby ball his statue holds after its unveiling, as Dame Verna looks on at Te Kuiti on Monday.
CHRISTINE CORNEGE FAIRFAX NZ

Sir Colin Meads touches the rugby ball his statue holds after its unveiling, as Dame Verna looks on at Te Kuiti on Monday.

"Wardrobe malfunction," one of the gathered masses said.

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Anticipation soared as Stan and Sir Colin applied their muscle, only for their clean out of the ruck to fail - the shroud remained in full shroud mode.

Colin Meads speaks alongside his imposing striding statue .
CHRISTINE CORNEGE FAIRFAX NZ

Colin Meads speaks alongside his imposing striding statue .

Then a bronzed boot emerged, a left leg, and finally there was Colin Meads in all the rampaging glory of his youth - in full stride, a rugby ball glued in one enormous mitt.

"Wow, it's bloody good," said a British scribe who knows his rugby.

Gasps and  "awesomes" filled the air above old people and rastas; locals and Lions fans; Team New Zealand caps; All Blacks caps; dignitaries in suits and those who'd wandered in from work, no doubt reaching two workers in fluro vests perched on the roof of a shop.

The imposing statue of rugby legend Sir Colin Meads.
HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES

The imposing statue of rugby legend Sir Colin Meads.

Often statues fail to capture their subject. Not this one. For those who remember Meads in his rugby prime, this is what they recall, not the frail 81-year-old who limped to the event in his honour, spoke in a near whisper and limped away.

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It could only have been more realistic had he been playing with one arm broken, as he did in South Africa in 1970, or had his boots been trampling would-be tacklers into the turf. A tanalised fencepost or two might have been a nice touch.

Between limps, the cancer-stricken Meads cracked a few jokes, a string of modest thank yous, and told rugby yarns, all the time looking a bit bemused - as a lock, perhaps he was uncomfortable being in the front row.

Sir Colin Meads, centre, his wife Verna and brother Stan listen to speeches at the unveiling ceremony in Te Kuiti.
CHRISTINE CORNEGE FAIRFAX NZ

Sir Colin Meads, centre, his wife Verna and brother Stan listen to speeches at the unveiling ceremony in Te Kuiti.

"I'm sorry, I'm not as fit as I used to be," he said after reaching the podium to say a few words. He had been too ill to attend a book launch in Rotorua on Friday.

Meads fondly recalled old rugby friends such as the late Kel Tremain, who once referred to him as a "broke cockie".

He warmly greeted former All Black team-mates such as All Black captain Brian Lochore, Earle Kirton , Tane Norton and Bryan Williams

He spoke of his love for Te Kuiti, bemoaning the fact that the days of an All Black playing club rugby there were over. He played 55 tests from 1957-1971, yet his provincial rugby was only for King Country.

"You wouldn't be able to do that now," he told an audience containing New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew, president Maurice Trapp and Lions manager John Spencer, who played against Meads for the 1971 Lions.

Such is the nature of professional rugby, now players are whipped off to be "city slickers", he said. Celebrations of his big day were to carry on at Waitete rugby club.

"I won't be able to have many beers afterwards, but I'll try to have a few," he chuckled, later adding the catch line "wherever the beer is free, that's where you'll find me."

Speaking after his more famous brother, 1961-1966 All Black Stan Meads said he felt like "the dog following behind the car," saying he didn't mind living in the shadow of big brother.

"He's a bloody good bugger, that's all I'll say," he told the crowd.

While the statue showed Meads in full All Black action locals recall a different, charitable man.

Such is his mana in Te Kuiti, schools closed for the day.

Maybe there was some skiving off but it didn't seem so; school uniforms were scattered among the masses, and a kapa haka group made up of all schools paid tribute to him.

"I'm here because Colin and Verna Meads supported schoolboy rugby when my boys were playing," Laraine King said. None of this world rugby legend stuff for her.

But if you do want world rugby legends, then Spencer relayed best wishes from across the world - from the great Gareth Edwards, Barry John, from JPR Williams, John Dawes, Bill Beaumont and legendary Irish locking rival Willie John McBride.

If the locals loved Meads, they got love back.

"Thanks for coming out," he told them.

 - Stuff

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