Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Colin Meads turns 80: How Pinetree got his name

Pinetree turns 80 today. Anyone with any interest in rugby knows that means Colin Meads, the legendary All Black lock, has hit another milestone.

Anecdotes about Meads and stories about his feats fill volumes of New Zealand rugby history.

Not so well known is the tale of his nickname and how New Zealand Colts teammate Roger Boon coined the term when they toured Australia and Ceylon in 1955.

"We had a chap down in New Plymouth we called the Whistling Pinetree," Boon recalled.

"He was very tall and very awkward to sit behind at the theatre and he used to walk down our street a lot. We used to call him the Whistling Pinetree in the late 40s and it just came out one day looking at Meads.

"I think I might have been talking to Ross Brown and said how much that kind of name would suit Colin."

Wynne Gray's 100 Greatest All Blacks: No 4 - Colin Meads

The response, the reaction?

"I think he adapted. We're still friends so I guess it came across okay. It might have been a native timber but just Tree sounded good, he was like one. On that first trip, he was only a teenager.

"He always appeared to be big. He was all gristle and muscle, an incredible rugby player and definitely one of the best I ever played with."

Boon went on to be picked for the All Blacks in 1960 as a replacement hooker for the injured Ron Hemi on the tour to South Africa. Boon played six games but injured his neck and missed the last part of the tour.

"I had what they called a broken neck, a vertebra injury and they put me in a big brace around my shoulders but I think Red Conway wore it more than me just to look bigger," Boon said.

Back home, Boon did not play for a couple of years until he went to a provincial squad training at Stratford, put his head in the first scrum and walked away.

"It was no good, that was it. They said I should have had a bone graft but I never did. I've lived with it, managed it and it's been a bit of a stiff neck but okay."

Boon farmed in Taranaki for a long time and helps out occasionally but is back in town now and has no difficulty filling in his days. His legs are not as co-operative as they were but the 81-year-old gets to the gym every day.

"It's my sport now because my legs are no good for golf and walking is not a nice experience.

"I keep quite busy picking up the weeds.

"I do a fair bit of gossiping and lift a little bit of iron and that keeps me mobile and I have got a huge benefit out of it.

Boon has not seen Meads for a while, although they caught up, along with Brian Lochore, at a fundraising reunion evening for New Plymouth Boys' High and he wants to get to an All Black reunion.

"I'd like that because we seem to be running out of a few these days."

- NZ Herald

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