Sir Colin Meads will be remembered as a great mate
Waitete Rugby Football Club president Jason Church vividly remembers meeting Meads.
Church walked into the club after an under-21 match and saw him at a leaner.
"I was just in awe. I thought I was in heaven.
"You heard stories about this guy and to come into the club and just see him there like a normal person enjoying a beer, talking with his mates – it was unbelievable.
"Then after a while I got to know him and he's just a real humble chap with a big heart."
Church said Meads' death has hit the club hard.
On Sunday, about 50 members of all ages gathered at the club to share memories, he said.
"One of the comments which I think nailed it on the head was 'hollow'.
"It's a hollow feeling to know you're are not going to come down here and see him any more sitting at a leaner or sitting in the grandstand watching a game of rugby.
"There is a very hollow, empty feeling amongst a lot of the members."
Church said Meads always made time to come down and support the club and King Country.
"He'd give advice to the rugby team and sometimes they didn't like what he had to say, but he was always a big believer in fitness and he'd be quick to tell you if he didn't believe you were doing the work.
"He would give you that little nudge if he thought you could do better."
When he was at the club, people would just gravitate towards him, Church said.
"The locals have had a lot of beers with him.
"They'd all be sitting there listening and he'd hold the table with his yarns – he'll definitely be missed.
"For everyone around here, it's the fact that they've lost a pretty good mate."
Bud Snowdon is one mate who will miss Meads more than most.
Snowdon grew up with Sir Colin Meads in Te Kuiti and played rugby with him from 1967 to 1975.
"I could tell you a few tales," Snowdon said. "But what happens on the paddock stays on the paddock."
The pair first met when they were two or three years old.
"My family and the Meads family were very close," Snowdon said.
"As young fellas, he used to come out to our farm and I'd go out to his.
"He was the one who named me Bud."
In 1975, they went to South Africa together with the Waitete Rugby Football Club.
The senior team worked for three years picking up hay, dagging sheep, painting and participating in working bees to get there, Snowdon said.
"There were only 19 of us and we were playing provincial teams over there.
"We were the strength of a Waikato or Auckland side, though, because we had Colin Meads in our team.
"He was a great attraction for them over there and we'd get about 20 to 25,000 people at the games just to see Colin Meads."
On Meads' 75th birthday, Snowdon took him to Dunedin to watch the Highlanders play the Crusaders.
"Seven other guys from the club came down with us, all young fellas, and they just couldn't believe that as soon as we got to Auckland Airport, people wanted his autograph.
"That happened the whole five or six days we were down in Dunedin and those guys just couldn't believe it, because they were used to sitting at the club with him at the same leaner, having a beer and talking rubbish like we do."
Snowdon now tells his grandchildren about what it was like to play rugby with Meads.
"It didn't matter what team it was for, it was just about being on the paddock with the guy.
"We're pretty close, Pinetree and me. He's a top mate, a very good mate."
Pupils from Te Kuiti Primary did a haka to Meads' statue on Monday.
A few of the senior boys asked to do it, Te Kuiti Primary administrator and sports coordinator Sarah McElroy said.
The boys are aged between 10 and 13 and are from the school rugby team, McElroy said.
"Several of them have met Colin before through playing and if he was in town he'd stop and have a talk to them.
"They were really proud to do it and more than happy – he meant a lot to them."
A korowai made by Diggeress Te Kanawa has been placed on Meads' 2.7-metre bronze sculpture.
It's a great honour to have this bestowed, Waitomo District Mayor Brian Hanna said.
Te Kanawa was a world famous weaver from Te Kuiti who died in 2009, Hanna said.
Her granddaughter put it on, he said.
The cloak, known as a traveller, will be taken off at night for security purposes, but otherwise will remain on the statue until the funeral, he said.
Instead of using traditional weaving materials, the korowai is woollen to make it more durable, he said.