New Zealand
Collins remembered around the world
ESPN Staff
June 6, 2015
New Zealand flanker Jerry Collins charges at the Australian defence during the rain-soaked Tri Nations clash with Australia, New Zealand won the game 26-12. New Zealand v Australia, Tri Nations, Eden Park, July 21 2007.
Jerry Collins attacks the Australia defence © Getty Images
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Following the hammering of the Highlanders last night, Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith held back tears as he spoke of the death of his former team-mate. At the end of the emotional night, Smith said Collins was someone he had looked up to as a team-mate for Wellington, Hurricanes and the All Blacks.

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

Tributes have poured in after the death of the 34-year-old former Test loose forward, who was killed with his wife, Alana Madill, in a car accident in southern France on Friday. The couple's baby daughter, Ayla, was left in a critical condition after the collision with a bus near Beziers.

Smith said he'd struggled to keep it together when he arrived at McLean Park on Friday night, with the players being told the shocking news as they boarded the bus for the match.

"We found out just as we were hopping on the bus. It rocked us in different ways, I think. 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. I sat on the bus and thought I was all right, but when I saw the changing room before the game, it was really tough."

Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd also struggled with the news, but believed the team did well to pay their respects for Collins with a huge win over conference rivals the Highlanders.

"I didn't know how I was going to stand up and talk to the team. I could feel the tears welling up, but at the end of the day we just had to get on with it," he said. "We talked about that, that if we wanted to pay respect to JC we had to go out and do the job … he would have wanted us to get out there and roll our sleeves up and get into it. He was an old school hard man, so that's respect to him."

Boyd coached Collins at Wellington Lions for several years and spoke of the hard-man's intelligence.

"We often sat on the plane together because he was Collins and I was Boyd ... he was an incredibly worldly character. He loved people and we had some great discussions around different cultures and countries. He liked his history and his geography, and I think he would have surprised a lot of people how knowledgeable he was."

Former All Blacks and Hurricanes team-mate Chris Masoe paid tribute in unique fashion during Toulon's Top 14 semi-final against Stade Francais. Masoe bleached his hair blonde in exactly the same style Collins became well-known for. He also wrote the message "R.I.P. JC. Love you brother" onto the tape on his lower right arm for the match.

Former All Blacks skipper Sean Fitzpatrick said Jerry Collins epitomised everything a rugby player should be following Collins death. Fitzpatrick first encountered Collins as a teenager and managed him at under-21 level.

He came to know a man whose relentless ferocity on the pitch was offset by warmth and compassion off it. He said Collins "epitomised everything a rugby player and the All Blacks should be".

"He was as tough as old boots on the field, but a loving man and very caring off the field," Fitzpatrick told BBC Radio Five. "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."

Collins played 50 times for the All Blacks, including in 48 Tests, the last of those the 2007 World Cup quarter-final loss to France when he was 26. Fitzpatrick believes Collins retired from the Test arena too early.

"There was a lot of fallout from that World Cup," he said. "He had decided it was time to move on. He could have played many, many more games for the All Blacks."

After the defeat to the French, Collins spent time with friends in north Devon. Having conducted a coaching session at the Barnstable club, he accepted a request to play for their second XV, a decision that had his new team-mates in awe. Barnstaple posted a message on their Facebook page recalling his visit with fondness and describing him as "a genuine bloke".

"He was a pure rugby man with a heart of gold," the statement said. "Hei maumaharatanga ki te tino hoa [in loving memory of a dear friend]."

© AAP

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