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WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Former All Blacks lock Colin Meads, named as New Zealand's best player of the 20th Century, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, New Zealand Rugby said on Thursday.
Meads, who turned 80 in June, has been ill for six months before the diagnosis was confirmed earlier this week.
"I've been crook for the past six months, and having all sorts of tests," Meads said in a statement.
"It's bloody hard for (wife) Verna, the kids and grandkids. The kids are all close to their mum and each other, and we'll come right together.
"Thank you to everyone for their concern."
Meads, known in New Zealand as 'Pinetree', played 133 games for the All Blacks in an international career stretching from 1957 until 1971. He played a then record 55 tests for the side and led them on 11 occasions.
At 1.92m tall, Meads was considered too short to play lock, but made 47 test appearances in the position, with his speed and ability to get wide in support of the backs making him the equivalent of a fourth loose forward for the side.
He garnered a reputation as an "enforcer" for the All Blacks in an era when the game was not subject to multiple television camera angles and numerous replays.
However, his athletic, no-nonsense playing style came to embody what many New Zealanders identify as being the ethos of the team.
"Colin remains a true legend of the game and it is with great sadness we hear of the seriousness of his condition," NZR chief executive Steve Tew said.
"We knew ...Colin had been ill for some time however the latest update on his condition is concerning to us all but we remain hopeful that ... Colin's strength and determination will help him through.
"Our thoughts, like so many others in New Zealand and around the rugby world are with him, his wife Verna and his family as he works through the next steps in his treatment."
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Toby Davis