Sir Colin Meads, the man of farm dirt, pine and number eight wire, says "every day is a good day" as he continues his battle with cancer.

The All Black legend is back drinking beers, with wife Lady Verna praising his "strength of mind".

In a wide-ranging interview with the Herald on Sunday at their Te Kuiti home, Meads, 80, shared his views on being Sir Colin, not fearing death, Dan Carter's drink driving and the cocaine allegations against Ali Williams.

He also revealed how Sir Murray Brennan, one of the world's leading cancer surgeons, is tracking his health regularly from his office in the United States. Brennan played rugby for Otago University's A team for eight years alongside future All Blacks Earle Kirton, Chris Laidlaw and Keith Nelson.


"That's how it all came about, Earl Kirton has been the go-between. He put me in touch with an old rugby mate of his who is a world leading pancreatic specialist.

"We send him data on what I am eating and what I am taking.

"We are right on track, I'm taking the right medication and doing the right things.

"Last week we got the okay from him, saying, 'Don't have any chemotherapy at this stage - stick with what you are doing."

Verna says it took months for doctors to find out what was wrong with the former lock. Eventually he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August.

"His legs were swelling but they didn't know why. His kidneys were malfunctioning and there was something wrong with the pancreas.

"Shortly after that we found out he was diabetic."

"When we found out [about the cancer] it was like a death knell," says Meads.


"I thought, 'how the hell am I going to get through this?' I said to Verna, 'I'll beat the bastard'."

His medical routine includes five injections a day and taking "too many tablets to remember what they are for, but I just do as I am told".

Verna - smart, kind, gracious, without a hair out of place and on trend with a "pop" of bright red lippie and purple toenails painted by her daughter and grandson - says her husband is the model patient, "which surprised me no end".

When news broke about Meads' illness he was inundated with calls from around the world offering suggestions to cure his cancer.

"I've tried the lot, taken everything, Vitamin C, raw asparagus, lemon juice and Lourdes water from France - I have a bit of that rubbed on my tummy every so often."

But a phone call from a Taranaki farmer would transform Meads' quality of life.

Vernon Coxhead, an organic dairy farmer, says: "I knew I could help him. It broke my heart to see him like that. He is such a great Kiwi."

Coxhead advocates natural remedies and his company Purecure produces Te Kiri Gold, a special water he believes could be a "game changer" for cancer.

"I've changed the molecular structure of the immune system so the water can penetrate through bone, and I believe that it can penetrate into the cancer cells."

"The water tastes bloody terrible," says Meads. "It's like drinking water from a chlorinated swimming pool.

"But if you saw me seven months ago I looked totally different. I was in a bad way for a long time. I couldn't walk 20 yards [18m] without falling over."

The cancer hasn't gone but Meads has the energy to tend to his garden. He loves going to the local club on Fridays "having a few beers and talking bull" with his mates.

"I am drinking to moderation now," Meads admits. That's generally three bottles of Tui.

"Actually I drink whatever I feel like, but I can't drink like I used to."

Verna has seen vast improvements in her husband, too.

Colin Meads with a young rugby fan in 1972. Photo / Photosport
Colin Meads with a young rugby fan in 1972. Photo / Photosport

"We can't guarantee it but he started to come right about the same time he started drinking the water. He'd lost a lot of weight and was sickly and pale - you wouldn't know it was the same man you see today."

The couple grew up in Te Kuiti and met through mutual friends.

"I always knew of his existence," says Verna. "At high school he was in the same form as me but a different class."

"I was in the clever class," Meads adds cheekily.

But it wasn't until after they left school that Meads "plucked up the courage" to ask the aspiring netballer to the movies.

"I was a shy young boy," says Meads.

Verna adds: "I was shy, too. I was surprised he took any notice of me."

The couple married 59 years ago but there was one condition in Meads' proposal.

"It had to be at the end of rugby and before the shearing," says Verna.

Two weeks after they tied the knot, Verna was "helping as Fleeco" in the shearing sheds.

Three of their five children still live in the King Country town and the couple have nearly enough grandchildren for a Super Rugby team - but none of them play the sport.

In October they will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. Their secret to a successful marriage is "talking to each other and putting up with one another's arguments".

They live in a three-bedroom house filled with natural light on a double section overlooking a park in a cul-de-sac.

The house, renovated two years ago, has high beams, white walls and accents of maroon in the kitchen to match the maroon couch Verna liked.

They are very hospitable.

Verna is famous for her lemonade scones but doesn't bake much now because she can't stand up for long periods of time. Instead, she went out to buy blueberry muffins specially.

As we talk she's folding sheets in the couple's large lounge, good-naturedly chipping in to correct Meads.

They have a pool and a spa. Their garden is verdant and colourful - roses, begonias, impatiens in vibrant colours and gigantic dahlias.

There are no trophies, photos, or rugby jerseys on display to suggest this is the home of a rugby icon. Instead, family photos are proudly peppered on the walls. An outhouse is used as storage for all of Meads' rugby memorabilia.

"We don't want to boast about being an All Back, put it that way," says Meads.

The lock, famous for his one-hand carry, played 133 games for the All Blacks from 1957-1971 and was named Player of the Century in 1999.

The game has changed in many ways since then, but not completely.

Meads is frank about All Blacks playing up off the field, including the incident involving the Chiefs and the stripper at the Okoroire Springs pub last year.

"It was pretty naughty but that sort of thing has been going on for 100 years.

"You know they'd had a bit of drink and they didn't win the competition but it was a bit of a laugh, but the Chiefs went a bit too far.

"But I must say she should take some of the blame just by doing what she does."

Meads has sympathy for Dan Carter's brush with the law after he was nabbed drink driving in Paris.

"It's unfortunate. We've all done that - driven when we shouldn't have, let's put it that way. I feel sorry for Dan because he's such a great fulla."

But he had zero tolerance for the allegations levelled against fellow lock Ali Williams, arrested in connection with an alleged cocaine-buying bust, also in Paris.

"Just put your head down, live by the rules and play good rugby. People say, 'Once an All Black, always an All Black'. And fair enough, too.

"But once you are no longer an All Black or playing for the All Blacks you are an individual and should be treated as such."

Meads understands the pressures that come with professional rugby and the power of social media.

"Everyone carries a phone with a camera, so you can't look a funny way or swear at the wrong time without someone taking a photo of you."

He remembers fun and friendships with his own team and the opposition when he was an All Black.

After each game both teams would dine together and take part in drinking competitions against each other.

Did he drink them under the table? "Let's say I could hold my own," he winks.

Meads acknowledges professional rugby players are now "looked after well, and set for life" - an opportunity he was denied and occasionally regrets.

"We don't look at it that way but often over a beer, we say, 'Well, we wouldn't have minded the money'," he says, laughing.

"Their lives are totally organised - they are told when to eat, what to drink and when to have a beer. We used to have one in the dressing room straight afterwards. We were free to enjoy ourselves."

Back in Meads' day, the All Blacks played hard on and off the field but got "stuck into work" as soon as they returned home.

"We'd be away on tour for ages but I would get off a train at Te Kuiti at 5 o'clock in the morning and be back in the woolshed - but it was glorious fun."

Back on the farm, Verna was at home raising their children on her own.

"The local footie club would chip in. It was hard on Verna, but the club painted the kitchen and did the gardens for Verna - everything but the shearing."

Verna says she was grateful the children didn't know their dad was a world-famous All Black.

"He was just Dad who used to go away and play rugby. I was in town with my oldest daughter once and my friend asked, 'Is Colin at the trials?' I said yes and my daughter says to me, 'Is Dad at the dog trials, Mum?' The only trials she knew were the dog trials.

"I always felt so pleased that my daughter didn't know that Dad was an All Black - their father was a farmer who played rugby."

Pinetree powering down the field in 1970. Photo / NZ Herald
Pinetree powering down the field in 1970. Photo / NZ Herald

The humble "no fuss" All Black has always struggled with the title "Sir" Colin.

"It's embarrassing. I am a Te Kuiti boy. When I go to the club and people call me Sir, I tell them they're mad."

His mate, Sir Peter Leitch, loves signing his autographs "Sir".

"He had me on and said, 'You've got to sign it Sir.' I said, no, I never will. It's not in my make-up. I am Colin Meads."

But like it or not, he's still noticed and keeps getting hounded for his autograph and the occasional selfie.

"I can hear them before I see them coming. They whisper, 'Colin Meads, Colin Meads, Colin Meads.' A lot of people say, 'Can I have an autograph for my son?'

"You know full well they want it for themselves. To me, that's nice."

Meads is proud to be Sangyong's ambassador. He and Verna drive matching "his and her" Rexton SUVs.

Verna's is red and Meads' blue - with PINE T on the plate.

"Last year I was driving home and this cop stopped me. I thought: 'What have I done? I'm not speeding'.

"The cop said, 'Nothing, I just wanted your autograph'."

Meads is one of three All Blacks from Te Kuiti and he doesn't believe there will be another.

"The small unions are struggling financially and the good players wouldn't play for a small union.

"They'd have to play for the Chiefs or one of the big unions."

So it's timely a statue of him will be put up in the main street to coincide with the Lions tour in June and July.

Some of his memorabilia will be moved from his outhouse to a museum in the town celebrating the exploits of him and his brother, fellow All Black Stanley Meads.

"I agreed to it but I am a bit embarrassed. It's going to be huge.

"But look, if you don't agree - you are letting the people down. It's a great honour if you're honest about it."

How does the great Pinetreewant to be remembered?

"Colin Meads - Dad and Granddad. I think they say I am just a silly old bugger and we are going to look after him. Which they do."

He's not afraid of dying.

"When you are ill or when it takes its course you'll probably get frightened but I am well enough to say I am winning and I will keep trying to win. Invariably, the battle will go against you and you have to face that."