Two great mates . . . Sir Colin Meads and Sir Brian Lochore look on from the stands during last year’s Mitre 10 Heartland Championship Lochore Cup final between King Country and North Otago in Te Kuiti, New Zealand. PHOTO GETTY IMAGES
For 24 of the 25 tests Wairarapa’s Sir Brian Lochore played for the All Blacks, his close friend Sir Colin ‘Pinetree’ Meads was right there alongside him.
Sir Brian said the news that Sir Colin had died was “devastating”, and paid tribute to one of his “best mates”.
Sir Colin passed away yesterday at the age of 81 after a battle with pancreatic cancer — a loss which has been mourned throughout the rugby-playing world.
Sir Brian is in Fiji, but told the Times-Age he had played all but one of his tests for the All Blacks alongside Sir Colin.
“That was when he broke his arm in South Africa and I ended up taking over his position at lock.
“He started a bit earlier than me and finished a bit later, but all the games I played, apart from one, he was part of it.”
The pair had stayed in touch through the years, even though they lived in different parts of the country.
The news Sir Colin had died had not come as a shock, but it didn’t make it any easier to deal with, Sir Brian said.
“It’s still quite devastating news to know that one of your best mates has passed away.
“I’m sad about that — he was a good mate.”
Both players were brought up in small unions and had never given any thought to representing anyone else, and that was something they were proud of, he said.
It would take some time to recover from his close friend’s death, he said.
“We went to a lot of functions together, whether it was speaking together or just catching up.
“We’ve always been a pretty close unit, and our families know each other pretty well — it’s a sad day.”
Former Masterton mayor and international rugby referee Bob Francis remembered Sir Colin as one of the most iconic figures in the history of rugby union.
Mr Francis had the opportunity to referee Sir Colin when he was nearing the end of his playing career, in a match between Wairarapa-Bush and King Country at Pahiatua.
“He was always hard on referees, especially at the end of his career,” Mr Francis said.
“But my memory of that game was that he was great.”
Sir Colin played 133 matches for the All Blacks between 1957 and 1971, including 55 tests.
He also made 139 appearances for his beloved King Country.
Mr Francis said Sir Colin’s friendship with Sir Brian meant he spent plenty of time in Wairarapa, and he was always happy to speak at functions.
“I certainly used to see him and catch up with him regularly at different games and occasions.
“He was a wonderful man really . . . just a great guy.
“Unlike some of the top players and coaches he was always pretty available to come and speak at functions.”
Looking back at the history of the game, Sir Colin stood out as one of the “real legends”, Mr Francis said.
He was an iconic figure not only in New Zealand, but internationally as well.
“If you see the films and footage of some of those games, there’s no question he was an iconic figure in world rugby.
“I think the reputation he earned as a hard man was probably justified, but it was a different era . . . he’s so respected and recognised as one of our greats of all time.”
In June, Sir Brian was in Te Kuiti for the unveiling of the 2.7m statue of Sir Colin, and gave a fitting tribute to his close friend during his speech.
“What he (Sir Colin) has done for Te Kuiti is amazing . . . but what he has done for New Zealand is unsurpassable,” he said.