Chris Allen: A team that always grows in the shadow of the Tree

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Colin Meads' career summed up the All Black ethos, writes sports editor Chris Allen.

Rugged individual Colin Meads' no-nonsense style, on and off the field, is one of the sport's most enduring images. File Photo / Supplied
Rugged individual Colin Meads' no-nonsense style, on and off the field, is one of the sport's most enduring images. File Photo / Supplied

Those grainy black and white images of a rampaging Colin Meads, ball in one hand, charging at the opposition with the silver fern glinting on his chest are woven into the fabric of New Zealand rugby.

Pinetree symbolises the very essence of what the All Blacks are about and is one of the iconic players around whom the mystique of the black jersey has been built.

In 55 test matches from 1957 to 1971, he scored seven tries and was captain four times. In 1999 he was named New Zealand's Player of the Century and the International Rugby Hall of Fame rated him "the most famous forward in world rugby throughout the 1960s".

Who could forget him playing on with a broken arm during the 1970 tour of South Africa against Eastern Transvaal? After the match Meads muttered: "At least we won the bloody game".

Kiwis identify with the can-do, hard-man style which sheep farming Meads epitomised.

The legend lives on today because of his on-field deeds, but also in the way he has carried himself in the years since his playing days, through administering the game and not being afraid to speak out when All Black traditions were being threatened.

When former and current All Blacks talk of the black jersey, it's always with a sense of pride and tradition. They recount those who have gone before them, the sacrifice they've made to uphold the values of the All Blacks and that special jersey with the silver fern on the chest.

To some, that may sound like a lot of twaddle, but it's probably one of the main reasons New Zealand remains at the top of the game.

In a country this small and young, sporting achievements, especially on the rugby field, have always said a lot about our spirit and sense of nationhood. We've always punched above our weight - sometimes literally when really pushed.

The most famous of all New Zealand teams, the 1924 Invincibles, began the legend and successive teams have enhanced it.

Meads is not the only one: Brian Lochore, Fred Allen, Don Clarke and many others helped forge the image of the All Blacks, firstly as winners, and as a team who rarely take a backward step.

That unbeatable aura has intimidated many of our rivals over the years.

Surprisingly, the ethos of the All Blacks has thrived in the professional era. Although New Zealand hasn't the financial resources of the Northern Hemisphere, the All Blacks remain the most successful and feared team in the world.

Successive managements can take credit for this, fostering a pride in playing for their country despite the lure of greater financial inducements elsewhere. We remain one of the world's great rugby nurseries.

It's a stretch to say these days that most young boys dream of becoming All Blacks. There are many other options, but the status of becoming a member of this elite club is still high.

An All Black in the family can still bring reflected glory, probably no more so than in the provincial heartland where the amateur game (probably not as strongly as in Meads' time) still holds sway.

- NZ Herald

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