All Blacks legend Sir Colin Meads dies, aged 81

by AAP

New Zealand and world rugby colossus Colin Meads has died, aged 81.

The former lock hailed as New Zealand's greatest rugby player of the 20th century, succumbed to a year-long fight with pancreatic cancer and died at Te Kuiti Hospital on Sunday morning.

It prompted tributes from the rugby community and beyond for the man known as "Pinetree".

A giant of the game throughout the 1960s, the King Country farmer 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.Meads was a giant of the game. Photo: Getty Images"He represented what it means to be a New Zealander. He was no nonsense, reliable, hard-working, warm and very generous with his time," English said.

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.Meads had a statue unveiled in his honour this year. Photo: Getty ImagesHe 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 made infrequent public appearances after his diagnosis.

He 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.