Collins – ‘everything a rugby player should be’

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Collins and his wife, Alana Madill, died in a car accident near the town of Béziers in southern France in the early hours of yesterday morning. The couple's baby daughter, Ayla, was also left in a critical condition after the collision with a bus. The popular 34-year-old - revered as one the sport's true hard men - played 48 times for the All Blacks in a seven-year international career that spanned the 2003 and 2007 World Cups.

Sean Fitzpatrick, the World Cup-winning former All Blacks captain, first encountered Collins when the Samoa-born back row was a teenager and, having coached him at Under-21 level, he came to know a man whose relentless ferocity as a player was offset by the warmth and compassion he displayed away from the pitch.

“Jerry was a man in a boy's body at that age and epitomised everything a rugby player and All Black should be. He will be remembered fondly,” Fitzpatrick said. “He became an All Black at a very young age [20] and went on to wear the jersey with pride. He was as tough as old boots on the field, but a loving man and very caring off the field.

“He was the nicest guy you would meet, but not someone you'd want to play against. We say good men make great All Blacks and he was a very, very good man.”

A player described by the former England scrum-half Matt Dawson as the “Jonah Lomu of the forwards” retired from international rugby after New Zealand's quarter-final exit from the 2007 World Cup.

In one of the great rugby stories, he took the field alongside star-struck amateur team-mates in a match for Barnstaple's development XV after spending the aftermath of France 2007 with friends in north Devon. The following month he wore a pair of red Barnstaple socks when playing for the Barbarians against South Africa at Twickenham.

“I think he retired from international rugby too early. There was a lot of fallout from that World Cup in 2007 when the All Blacks were knocked out in Cardiff,” Fitzpatrick said. “He had decided it was time to move on. He was very much his own man, as he showed when he played for Barnstaple, turning up and pulling their jersey on. He could have played many, many more games for the All Blacks.”

Collins was among the first wave of rugby superstars to join Toulon. Then, once his season on the south coast of France had been completed in 2009, he departed for the Ospreys and was subsequently named their player of the year for 2009-10. A two-year spell in Japan for Yamaha Jubilo followed before he signed for the French second division side Narbonne in January.

Collins made his debut for the Hurricanes in 2001 and the Wellington-based team held a minute's silence before their 56-20 win over the Highlanders in Napier yesterday.

The Hurricanes' captain, Conrad Smith, said Collins was an inspiration: “Things were a bit overshadowed tonight by the passing of one of our club members, but it was a nice way to recognise him.” – The Independent

Original source: Collins - ‘everything a rugby player should be’

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