Sir Colin Meads believes an All Black could still come from one of the heartland provinces – but will “never play their rugby there”.
The All Black legend was the guest speaker at the Waimate Rugby Club’s 50th jubilee celebrations at the weekend.
Even before he sat down in the clubrooms, he was swamped by people wanting to have a chat.
“This is the loudest bloody club room I’ve ever sat in. I love coming to the country clubs.
“They’re still the heart of the community,” Sir Colin said.
“These clubs miss out on a lot now. An All Black could come from Te Kuiti, or Waimate, but they will never play their rugby there. The young ones get scholarships, put into the academy system, get a Super 15 contract, and move to the big cities.”
Sir Colin said he would have been as fit as today’s All Blacks at his peak.
“It’s a different sort of strength these days, it’s all gymnasium strength. Today’s locks are four inches taller than I was, and they’re bigger,” he said.
“We never had all those dietitians or fitness advisers. Aerobic fitness was just running.”
Sir Colin had a reputation as a no-nonsense ‘enforcer’ as a player.
“I don’t have a problem that [All Blacks] captain Richie McCaw talks to referees. I talked to them more than he does. He just has to talk to six or seven of them.
“We never had touch-judges or any of those others to deal with,” Sir Colin said.
Sir Colin played 133 matches for the All Blacks from 1955 to 1971, including 55 tests.
When he retired, he was the most capped player.
“No-one retires any more, these days they just keep on playing. It’s much harder for selectors – you pick who has done it for you before but you can’t afford to be too loyal,” he said.
“You can’t blame the players for playing longer. It’s a job.”
Sir Colin also felt the changes in farming practices made it harder for “country club players”.
“They have to get all their fitness in training and playing.
“You don’t get your fitness from working on the farm as you once did. Machines do a lot of the work [on the farm] now,” he said.
Sir Colin said lock Sam Whitelock was the standout of the current young crop of All Blacks, while he also felt Crusaders flanker Matt Todd had a lot of potential.
But he still follows as much rugby as he can, whatever the form.
“Every weekend, hundreds of young players are out there on the field playing rugby. It keeps them out of trouble, and teaches them hard work and commitment,” he said.