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Some call him impish. Colin Meads calls him a "cheeky little bastard". Now they can call Andrew Mehrtens "Golden Pinetree Award winner".

Meads insisted the veteran All Black and Canterbury first five receive the top prize in the Herald on Sunday's inaugural Pinetree Awards for his contribution to New Zealand rugby.

"He fought back from nothing," said Meads. "He's had his problems and was dropped from the Crusaders, but he just got on with it. It's his commitment to New Zealand rugby. He hasn't just been an All Black."

The 31-year-old's reward for all that hard work is a real, live pine tree, which he intends to keep for Christmas and then pass on to his father.

Mehrtens was one of 15 winners in the rugby awards, judged by Meads, his son Glynn, Waikato rugby great Duane Monkley and Herald on Sunday writers, including former All Black Lee Stensness and sports editor Paul Lewis.

The People's Pinetree Award, voted for by hundreds of readers, was won by Wayne Ormond.



For outstanding contribution to rugby, this is open to a team, player, coach or administrator.

Daniel Carter, Richie McCaw and Anton Oliver were mentioned. Lee Stensness nominated the Bay of Plenty rugby team.

But Colin Meads' impassioned speech in favour of Mehrtens silenced the judging panel, who had to recognise rules one and two of the Pinetree Awards (1. Colin has the final say; 2. Refer to rule one).

"He fought back from nothing. He's had his family problems and was dropped from the Crusaders. But he just got on with it. He goes back and plays for his club. It's his commitment to New Zealand rugby. He hasn't just been an All Black."

Meads fondly recalled his last encounter with Mehrtens during the Tri Nations in Sydney. Meads was getting back to his hotel the night after the game and Mehrtens jumped out from behind a sofa to surprise him.

2 BEST AMATEUR - Mark Bright (Nelson Bays)

3 BEST SIDESTEP -- Luke McAlister (North Harbour)

4 SWEETEST PASS - Glen Horton (Otago)

The judges decided this Pinetree should go to a one-off pass although Byron Kelleher and Andrew Mehrtens were nominated as consistently sweet passers.

However, the pre-meditated reverse pass from Highlanders fullback Glen Horton to create a try against the Waratahs was the clear winner. The pass from Horton was so good it's hard to remember who scored the try.

Monkley noted its high degree of difficulty. "It's one thing throwing a trick pass two feet in close quarters but to do it at pace and throw it five metres is rare."

5 CLEAR-FELLING AWARD - Sione Lauaki (Chiefs/Auckland)

Though the video footage showed stand-out running from backs and forwards, the judges felt the category was for the barnstorming beasts, not the svelte speedsters out wide.

In that regard, Sione Lauaki stood above the pack. Yes, his form tailed off and Chiefs assistant Monkley noted he'd put on weight but his Super 12 form and deeds for the Pacific Islanders (particularly against the All Blacks in Albany) made him impossible to ignore.

6 TALL TIMBER AWARD - Chris Jack (Canterbury)

"Don't put Ali Williams in there," said Meads, so we didn't.

Meads said for consistency and lineout wins at crucial moments, Jack was without peer.

Keith Robinson rated a special mention for his Super 12 form, while Monkley said he was the toughest out of all the nominees - except for his injured back which has deteriorated from a combination of rugby and pig hunting.

Jono Gibbes' athleticism and skill in the air was also noted. Monkley said Gibbes was a great leaper which made him easier to lift.

The was also support for Wellington's Ross Kennedy, who many felt was unlucky to miss out on the All Black tour.

7 PINUS RADIATA AWARD - Warren Gatland (Wasps coach, London)

The former Waikato hooker and Ireland coach was perhaps a surprise winner in this category, given the attention lavished on England's players' player of the year Bruce Reihana and his anticipated return to New Zealand.

Both are Te Awamutu born incidentally, but it was Gatland's success with London club Wasps (England and European champions) that won it.

Mark Van Gisbergen, former Hamilton Marist fullback, was a strong nominee. His call-up to the England squad when he qualifies with residency next year is considered a formality.

Finau Maka, with Toulouse, and evergreen prop Craig Dowd were also nominated.

The judges noted that new exports Glen Jackson and Kees Meeuws couldn't be considered for this award because they played most of their rugby in New Zealand this year.

8 SERVICES TO TIMBER - Byron Kelleher (Waikato)

Stensness suggested this award go to Kelleher "for giving the pine a break and getting off the bench for the All Blacks".

Meads agreed.

That meant it was a tough call for Bay of Plenty and its BOP Mafia, who added lustre to the Log of Wood.

Naturally, with this award Tony Woodcock was mentioned.

"He'd be alright if he was treated," said Colin.

"Or he doesn't get splinters," offered son Glynn.

9 MOST UNDER-RATED - Glen Jackson (Bay of Plenty)

This category perhaps provided the most nominees, with every judge having a favourite forgotten man.

Isaac Boss was thrown in but Colin warned that the little halfback/fullback was his nephew.

Colin believed it should go to a player who wouldn't be out of place in the All Blacks.

Jackson was roundly considered to have hidden depths although some noted his ability to hide on defence. But that was the past - this year for Bay of Plenty he was a key part of a tenacious, all-round defensive unit led by captain Wayne Ormond.

Jackson, the panel agreed, knew how to run a game and was a crafty playmaker, not to mention goalkicker and tryscorer, in the Bay's big games, of which there were many.

Ormond was also nominated for this award but the fact he was going to win the People's Pinetree Award made it easier for the judges to side with Jackson.

Bay of Plenty winger Anthony Tahana, Northland hooker Tim Dow and Bay of Plenty second five Grant McQuoid also rated an honourable mention.

10 TRADITIONAL VALUES - Gordon Slater (Taranaki)

Attention turned to longevity and commitment and New Plymouth-raised Herald on Sunday writer Dylan Cleaver had a lump in his throat when he uttered the words "Gordon Slater".

His emotion was clear to see and Monkley backed him up by noting that Slater had given up a Super 12 contract to work on his Taranaki dairy farm. Slater continued to play for Taranaki and rack up 166 games for the province.

Meads agreed that since Slater's a farmer "a tree will come in handy".

11 BEST THOUGHT - Reviving the All Black trial (Graham Henry)

12 BEST TACKLER - Richie McCaw (Canterbury)

Monkley had done his homework on his specialist subject and while Stensness and others rated Jerry Collins, Monkley said he wouldn't feel comfortable giving him the award after so many illegal tackles.

Monkley said Tana Umaga, Brad Thorn and Wayne Ormond came to mind straight away - the latter for his influence on his team-mates.

Sam Tuitupou was another finalist while Byron Kelleher's brilliant tackle against the Sharks rated a special mention. "If he hadn't have made that tackle the Chiefs would have missed out on a semifinal."

Colin said "we could just about give it to Mehrts because he made one this year".

In the match he was reffering to, the NPC final, Meads said one Rodney So'oialo tackle was exceptional. But it was the man he tackled who topped the voting - All Black flanker Richie McCaw, who was praised for his accuracy, intensity and (surprise, surprise) workrate.

13 PINECONE AWARD - Nick Williams (North Harbour)

The panel ruled that the recipient can't have played for the All Blacks, which eliminated the highly promising Jerome Kaino and Piri Weepu but kept Luke McAlister in the hunt by the loophole that he hadn't yet played for the All Blacks.

It came down to two loose forwards - Waikato's Liam Messam and North Harbour's Nick Williams.

The former is a teenager who's already captained the New Zealand Sevens team and has an array of Zinzan-style tricks, including the drop-kick and the grubber. His age meant he could easily be the next, next big thing.

Williams, however, was a powerhouse in the NPC and appeals as a potential international No 8 in the near future.

14 BEST MATE - Grant Kereama

No one could go past Wellington radio DJ Grant Kereama, who donated a kidney to Jonah Lomu.

15 PEOPLE'S PINETREE -- Wayne Ormond (Bay of Plenty)

Dubbed "the wild woolly headed bugger" by Colin Meads, Bay of Plenty captain Wayne Ormond was a clear winner in this award as the public's player of the year.

Ormond made a telling impact mainly off the bench for the Chiefs but it was his stirring leadership of Bay of Plenty that won him votes.

Richie McCaw was an equally emphatic runner-up, with the bulk of the remaining votes shared mainly between Rico Gear, Mils Muliaina, Tana Umaga, Chris Jack, Glen Jackson, Joe Rokocoko, Andrew Mehrtens and Justin Marshall.

The final vote for the People's Pinetree came from Geraldine Watson, of the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Center in Abu Dhabi. She nominated Marshall.