All Blacks great Colin Meads honored with statue

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — As a player, All Blacks legend Colin Meads was always larger than life. Now, a statue considerably more than life size, has been erected in his honor in the main street of his home town of Te Kuiti.

Meads, named in 1999 as New Zealand's Rugby Player of the 20th Century, pulled the cord on Tuesday that unveiled the 2.7 meter (9 foot) statue, which shows him in typically pose, with the ball carried in one giant hand.

There were fears that Meads, now 81 and battling pancreatic cancer, might not be able to attend the unveiling. But he took full part in the ceremony and looked in good health.

He apologized to a large crowd that he was "not as fit as I used to be" but said he would "try to have a few beers" to celebrate the occasion.

"There's nothing much one can say on an occasion like this," Meads said.

He was supported by brother Stan, with whom he formed one of the All Blacks' most formidable locking partnerships. Former teammate Brian Lochore, and ex-All Blacks Tane Norton and Bryan Williams were also present.

Stan Meads praised the statue, created in bronze by Auckland artist Natalie Stamilla, as a great likeness. He said his brother deserved the honor as "a bloody good bugger."

Many fans touring New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions took a detour from the Lions itinerary to be present for the unveiling and to cheer one of rugby's greatest players.

Meads played a then-record 55 tests for New Zealand between 1957 and 1971.