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Collins mourned as tributes pour in

Published 05/06/2015

Jerry Collins played 48 times for the All Blacks
Jerry Collins played 48 times for the All Blacks

Jerry Collins has been remembered as the epitome of an All Black as tributes poured in following the death of the former New Zealand forward.

Collins and his wife Alana Madill died in a car accident near the town of Beziers in southern France in the early hours of Friday 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.

Former All Blacks skipper Sean Fitzpatrick first encountered Collins when the Samoa-born back row was a teenager.

Having managed him at under-21 level, he came to know a man whose relentless ferocity on the pitch was offset by the warmth and compassion he displayed away from it.

"Jerry was a man in a boy's body at that age and epitomised everything a rugby player and All Blacks should be. He will be remembered fondly," Fitzpatrick told BBC Radio Five.

"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 former England scrum-half Mat 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 tales, he took the field alongside star-struck amateur team-mates in a match for Barnstaple RFC's development XV after spending the aftermath of France 2007 with friends in north Devon.

The following month he wore a pair of Barnstaple's red 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' death was mourned at Barnstaple with a post on the club's Facebook page recalling his visit with fondness and describing him as a "pure rugby man''.

"The news has had a big impact around the rugby world as it was well known what a wonderful guy Jerry was," the statement read.

"Here at Barnstaple we know better than most just what a genuine bloke he was after he visited the club in 2007.

"He was a pure rugby man with a heart of gold. Hei maumaharatanga ki te tino hoa (in loving memory of a dear friend).''

It was an emotional day for the Hurricanes, the Super Rugby team Collins represented from 2001 to 2008 who booked their place in play-offs with a 56-20 victory over the Highlanders soon after hearing of Collins' death.

An emotional Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith voiced his admiration for his former New Zealand and provincial team-mate.

"Jerry was a legend. He was a hero. I watched him play and then was fortunate enough to join him in the Hurricanes team," Smith said.

"To see the pride he had in the jersey every time he wore it, and the same with the All Blacks. He was a proud man, people loved him, the players loved him. I'm glad I never had to play against him.

"For guys like me who had played a lot with him and looked up to him he was a bit of a hero, so it was a tough game to prepare for."

Collins was among the first wave of rugby superstars to join Toulon and 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 his final club in January, heading to French second division side Narbonne.

Collins made his debut for the Hurricanes in 2001 - the same year he made his All Blacks bow - and the Wellington-based team held a minute's silence before their game against the Highlanders in Napier on Friday night.

The Ospreys paid tribute to a player who served them with distinction from 2009 to 2011.

''He was his own man, a true individual, and a giant of the world game,'' a statement released by the Welsh region said.

''Jerry made a huge impact during his short time in an Ospreys jersey and will be sadly missed by everybody in rugby, his family and friends. RIP JC.''

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