New Zealand and world rugby colossus Colin Meads has died, aged 81.
The former All Blacks lock, hailed as New Zealand’s greatest player of the 20th century, succumbed to a year-long fight with pancreatic cancer and died at Te Kuiti Hospital on Sunday morning.
The All Blacks were rocked by the news the day after their hefty Test win over Australia in Sydney.
Captain Kieran Read said he would treasure the occasions he spent with Meads.
“He was always keen to share a beer and have a yarn. On behalf of all players, our thoughts go out to his family at this time,” he said.
Coach Steve Hansen said Meads’ loss was “incredibly sad” and would be felt by rugby people around the world.
A giant of the game throughout the 1960s, the King Country farmer Meads was remembered for both his on-field deeds and his honest, humble nature when his career finished.
New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English said Meads’ death represented a sad day for the country and for its national sport of rugby.
“My thoughts are with Sir Colin’s wife Lady Verna, and his family and friends at this time,” Mr English said.
NZ Rugby chairman Brent Impey says the exploits of Meads in a career spanning 361 games have become folklore in New Zealand and he was always revered following his retirement.
Meads played a 133 games for the All Blacks, including 55 Tests, from 1957 to 1971.
He was regarded as one of the sport’s greatest players and was named New Zealand Player of the Century in 1999.
A statement from the Meads family asked for privacy but was thankful for the messages and thoughts of people around the country as his health worsened in recent times.
They thanked Te Kuiti medical staff for their care since his diagnosis in August last year.
He survived by his wife, Lady Verna Meads, five children – Karen, Kelvin, Rhonda, Glynn and Shelley – 14 grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
Youngest daughter Shelley Mitchell said her father was a treasured member of the family.
“Dad led a full life. He loved being an All Black and he loved his family dearly. We will miss him terribly,” she said.
Meads continued to contribute to organisations such as IHC New Zealand, the Crippled Children’s Society and the New Zealand Rugby Foundation, at a time when the game suffered a series of serious spinal injuries.
He made infrequent public appearances after his diagnosis but was well enough in June to attend the unveiling of a 2.7m statue crafted in his honour in home town Te Kuiti.
“I won’t be able to have too many beers afterwards but I’ll try and have a few,” he said.