Recently I was afforded the ultimate honour of officiating at the funeral of Sir Colin Meads. So I thought I'd share some of the lighter moments of my eulogy:
I've known Colin since 1967. But he's only known me since 1997. That's 30 years of unrequited love. I'm like most of you. We all feel we've known him all our lives. And as a nation we've all felt we've owned a bit of him as well.
Lady Verna, Karen, Kelly, Rhonda, Glynn, Shelley, Stan, Joan and the entire Meads clan have been so generous in sharing their husband, father, brother and grandfather with the rest of us.
Those of us baby boomers of a certain generation grew up on a diet of the legend of Pinetree Meads. The word diet always reminds me of the tall tale about the touch judge (in those days he would have been a line umpire) who asked the referee in a Ranfurly Shield match to stop the game and count the opposition players because 'Meads might have eaten one'.
I've since found the quip belongs to Colin's 1970 All Blacks team mate Neil Thimbleby, the result of Meads emerging with blood around his mouth following a melee in a Shield challenge against Hawkes Bay in 1969.
Or the quote from author Tom O'Reilly who reckoned Colin Meads was the kind of player you expect to see emerging from a ruck with the remains of jockstrap between his teeth. Such was his mythical reputation!
As a seven year old in 1967, 50 years ago, I can vividly remember listening to my first test match on an old valve radio. The All Blacks played Australia at Athletic Park as a part of the 75th Jubilee Celebrations. They thrashed the Wallabies 29-9. No mean feat in the days of three-point tries. Coincidentally, it was the same score as the first Rugby World Cup final 20 years later in 1987.
In 1967 Colin had already been in the All Blacks for a decade. That day the great King Country farmer locked the scrum, with a young Manawatu farmer, making his All Blacks debut. Almost 50 years to the day, Sam Strahan has come back to farewell his boyhood hero and old rugby mate. It's great to see so many old heroes and team mates from Pinetree's 1967 side here today.
So why does our nation love Colin so much? I think partly because he harks back to simpler, less complicated times. In the 1960s when Colin was the cornerstone of the All Blacks pack, Kiwi Keith Holyoake, another farmer, presided over a land of milk and honey. Technology consisted of No.8 wire. Social media was sharing the newspaper with your mate.
We were a half gallon, quarter acre, pavlova paradise - according to British author and politician Austin Mitchell. The All Black forward pack was made up of farmers with simple names - Colin, Stan and Brian. There were no Brodies or Codies or Julians. Not that there's anything wrong with Brodie. He's the second greatest lock we've produced.
Colin's shearing shed was his gym and fence posts were his weights. Repetition training was what he and Stan did on the end of a scrub cutter in the summer months. Their treadmill, the steep farm tracks. Match day hydration meant half an orange at halftime. There were no ice baths after the game, just cold beers.
So how do you describe Sir Colin Earl Meads? He was old school.
To use sheep breeding terminology, Colin was like a bit of a cross between Ed Hillary and Barry Crump. Fearlessly and heroically scaling every rugby peak like Hillary, with the earthy rural charm and wit of Crump, topped off by that tiny pinch of political incorrectness we all loved him for.
These attributes, mixed with pint or two of Tui and healthy dose of hybrid vigour, have produced the quintessential good Kiwi bloke, a bloke who just happened to be the best rugby player of the 20th century. Many of us would say of all time.
Pinetree definitely mellowed with age but rugby was always his currency, his calling card to do good. Some even argue he achieved more off the paddock than on it, with his tireless efforts for charity, especially his beloved IHC where he's credited with raising a sum in excess of seven figures. Then there's his work for the NZ Rugby Foundation, his community and New Zealand rugby over 60 years.
I shudder to think of the number of rugby clubs he would have graced with his presence over the years, often speaking, donating jerseys and raising funds, only asking a bit of petrol money and free beer in return.
Mind you, some of those clubs probably found out it would have been cheaper to pay him. He had a tremendous capacity to sup on a pint and a cast iron constitution to boot.
The greatest gift you can give to anyone is your time. Colin Meads gave lots of that and, most importantly, he gave it freely to people from all walks of life.