Kees Meeuws has added another skill to his CV but a career change is far from the agenda, as DANIEL GILHOOLY reports.

Call most props well rounded to their face and you'd be wise to raise your guard. Say it to Kees Meeuws and there would be little chance of a misunderstanding.

The man whose middle name is Junior may have a bowling ball-esque 120kg frame but the only round parts appear to be extra muscle.

And he boasts a variety of off-field interests and occupations, combined with a rugby skill set that dazzles compared to All Blacks props of years gone by.


The latest trick in the Meeuws grab bag is most fully appreciated by rugby connoisseurs, particularly those familiar with the inner sanctum that is front row scrummaging.

A tighthead prop for most of his career, Meeuws has been shifted by the All Blacks selectors to start on the loosehead side.

For the casual fan, the switch is greeted with blank stares. But for the likeable Aucklander, this change has proven better than any holiday, as it led to him becoming a first-choice selection for the first time since 2000.

Even so, as kickoff neared for last Saturday's season-opening test, the 36-3 win over England in Dunedin, rare butterflies fluttered as he contemplated starting at loosehead for the first time in 36 tests.

"I was a little bit nervous before the game because of that, and coming up against the world champion forward pack," he said of a match where the New Zealand front row dominated their opponents, including Meeuws' opposite Julian White, supposedly Europe's premier scrum exponent.

"Because of that I was stoked with how it went. Long term, short term, if loosehead lets me get back in, I'll take it."

Former coach John Mitchell used Meeuws there occasionally last year but it was always off the bench behind Canterbury duo Dave Hewett and Greg Somerville.

Mitchell's successor Graham Henry -- a former headmaster at Meeuws' old school, Kelston Boys' High School -- has different ideas.

Out to grunt up the All Blacks' forward play, he wanted a loosehead prop who was mobile yet still strong enough to mix it in rugby's darkest corridors.

To the layman, loosehead means packing down on the left-hand side of a scrum's front row and tighthead the right. But to a prop, they are as different as apple pie and vitamin supplements.

"Tighthead you're more of an anchor of a scrum, you're a rock who doesn't want to move," Meeuws, 29, explained.

"At loosehead you're more the attacker, trying to put pressure on the tighthead, to turn him in.

"I'm loving it. I've played all of my professional career at tighthead and I'm just loving the opportunity I've been given."

It seems Meeuws' test tally of nine tries, a world record for a prop, is poised to expand.

He now finds he has extra energy around the field because he can break from scrums more quickly.

However, core duties remain the focus. He revelled in the trench warfare at Carisbrook, sensing pre-game that something special was brewing.

"It's a while since we've been so dominant," he said.

"There was a feeling in the team when we sung the national anthem, that was the first time that I've heard all the boys singing."

Then it was into the haka where Meeuws' aggressive posturing at the front once again caught the attention of television cameras and no doubt a few English players.

He admits he tries to eyeball opponents -- "the smallest guy in the team" -- he laughs before admitting he sought out White.

"I'm a Maori and if I didn't do it 100 per cent I'd be letting our people down and also every New Zealander. When you do the haka you're giving yourself to your country."

Meeuws' pride in his heritage was fuelled by mother Rebecca, who died when he was a child. He also wants to explore his Dutch background. Father Cornelius, who died 10 years ago, was born in Holland.

The youngest sibling in a family comprising four sisters and two brothers, Meeuws has developed other interests that has kept rugby journalists intrigued since his first-class debut for Otago and the Highlanders in 1996.

He was forced to shift south because of the depth in Auckland and quickly forged a potent front row relationship with prop Carl Hoeft. The pair both made their test debut two years later.

Meeuws' affable manner and nose for the tryline make him a popular news subject.

He hit international headlines at last year's World Cup when he pulled out of a collapsing scrum as Wallabies opposite Ben Darwin yelled "neck, neck" during the semifinal.

Darwin can no longer play the game because of the neck injury he suffered but he said Meeuws' actions might have saved him from life in a wheelchair.

A former pig hunter, he recently spent two years at Auckland University pursuing an arts degree. He has an interest in fine art and dabbles with a little creativity himself when the chance arises.

A bare-chested and tattooed Meeuws holding six week-old daughter Inz fronted an Allergy New Zealand poster campaign earlier this year urging allergy sufferers to be wary of their life-threatening condition.

He, wife Juanita and two-year-old daughter Eva have numerous food allergies, making eating an organised art form in the Meeuws household.

Dad has become used to living without tomatoes, potatoes and milk at home and the All Blacks dieticians have been thoroughly drilled.

Meeuws said his rugby improved considerably when his allergies were diagnosed.

It has shone through since he returned to Auckland in 2002 after five enjoyable years in Dunedin, helping the province win firstly the NPC title and the Super 12 six months later.

And he was a popular figure on Monday when the All Blacks trained publicly at his club side Waitakere's home ground.

It was another plus for Meeuws on the loose.