Rugby: Tributes flow for pioneering All Black Andy Haden

One of Andy Haden's biggest rivals has paid him the ultimate compliment, describing him as a genuine rival to Sir Colin Meads as the greatest All Blacks lock of all time.

On Wednesday, Haden died at the age of 69, prompting an outpouring of tributes. 

Former Wallaby Peter FitzSimons, who played against the Aucklander, insists Haden was among the best we've ever produced.

"New Zealand thought they'd never seen another Colin Meads," FitzSimons tells Newshub.

"To this point, they're more or less right. But for me, no man ran him closer than Andy Haden."

Haden was a giant in every sense of the word. At nearly two metres tall, he was hard to miss. 

But on the field it was his brain, rather than his brawn, that set him apart.

"The real thing was his ability to think on the field and have conversations that allowed us to do what we were doing better at the time," says NZ Rugby president and former teammate Bill Osbourne.

In 1978, Haden's tactical thinking was as prominent as ever when, down by two points, he took a dive at the lineout that's since been etched into rugby folklore.

"He was a very fine representative of the black jersey and the silver fern," says former commentator Keith Quinn.

Haden was also a stalwart of Auckland Rugby, leading them to victory in what's still regarded as one of the greatest provincial games in history, a five point victory over bitter rivals Canterbury to lift the Ranfurly Shield in 1985.

But Haden's influence on the game went beyond his contribution as a player.

He's widely credited with driving rugby out of its conservative, amateur years, and into the professional era.

"When they sit in their big houses, if you like, someone had to start that drive and it was Andy Haden," Quinn adds.

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