A vintage hearse took Meads’ casket for one last lap of the rugby field at Te Kuiti, the tiny North Island town where he grew up and lived until his death from cancer last week at the age of 81.
Most of the town’s 4,000 residents lined the streets to pay respects to the man affectionately known as Pinetree.
Meads’ brother Stan, himself a former New Zealand international, said the towering lock with a hardman reputation would have been humbled at the outpouring of grief in New Zealand since his passing.
“This today is amazing,” he said. “I can just imagine Pinetree saying: ‘What the hell’s all the fuss about?’.”
Meads played 133 games, including 55 Tests, during his 14 years with the All Blacks until his retirement in 1971.
He then worked as a selector and manager, mentoring generations of players to wear the famous black jersey.
“I’ve lost a friend, New Zealand has lost an icon,” his former captain Brian Lochore said.
“Nobody has done more for New Zealand rugby, at any time in my view, than Colin.”
Lochore said Meads had incredible skills for a big man and revolutionised forward play by running the ball.
But he said it was his will to win that inspired his teammates.
“I could trust him to win the battle,” he said. “No-one ever beat Pinetree over 80 minutes, maybe for 50 or 55 but over 80 minutes Pinetree always won.”
New Zealand Rugby president John Sturgeon agreed, saying Meads helped forge the winning culture that has made the All Blacks great.
Broadcaster Jamie Mackay told the funeral service that despite his on-field prowess, Meads always remained down-to-earth, describing him as “the quintessential good Kiwi bloke”.
Mackay said Meads was shy about his celebrity but used it to raise millions for charity.
He said Meads, who maintained a small sheep station throughout his career, was a reminder of a bygone era in New Zealand rugby.
“Colin’s shearing shed was his gym, fence posts were his weights, repetition training was what he and Stan did on the end of a scrub cutter in the summer months,” he said.
“Match day hydration was half an orange at half-time, there were no ice baths, only cold beers.”