Though Jerry Collins became a New Zealand flanker when he was only 20, few observers of rugby union were surprised. With his ferocious tackling he slotted in perfectly, and though injury interrupted his early international career he went on to win 49 caps for the All Blacks.
Collins rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most feared and admired players of his generation. He was born in Apia, Samoa, and raised in Porirua, a blue collar suburb on the outskirts of the New Zealand capital, Wellington. He showed huge potential at an early age, becoming a high school star, winning selection for New Zealand Secondary Schools and being named player of the tournament at the Junior World Cup in 1999.
He was picked for the All Blacks in 2001, his first season in Super Rugby, and after an injury hiatus, he returned from 2003 to become a first-team regular. At 6ft 3in and weighing around 17st, he played at blindside flanker and became internationally famous for his brutal tackling.
That aptitude may have been best demonstrated in 2003 when, in a Test match against Wales, Collins knocked out the Wales captain Colin Charvis in a legitimate but bone-rattling tackle. His captain Tana Umaga, Collins' cousin, won an international sportsmanship award for placing the unconscious Charvis in the recovery position.
Collins became a highly respected and senior member of the All Blacks team and was appointed to the captaincy for a 2006 Test against Argentina in Buenos Aires; his earthy comments at a post-match press conference might have contributed to the short-lived natured of his captaincy, however. He led his country only twice more, against Portugal and Romania in 2007, in World Cup pool matches. The All Blacks' quarter-final defeat to France was the last of Collins' 48 Tests.
After international retirement, Collins played for Toulon, then Ospreys from 2009-11, followed by Yamaha Jubilo in Japan, but his powers seemed to have waned. He was signed by Narbonne in January, after a year off, as medical cover for the Australian Rocky Elsom.
Collins also turned out for the Devon side Barnstaple. He was holidaying in Devon following New Zealand's 2007 World Cup exit when he was spotted by a Barnstaple coach, who invited him to watch the team. Collins led an impromptu training session for the under-14s, then turned out for the second team against Newton Abbot. A few weeks later, playing for the Barbarians, he wore the Barnstaple socks.
"He was hard, very hard but he was also a very intelligent man," said Glenn Muirhead, a physiotherapist who treated Collins. "Streetwise, yes, but also with wisdom that all too rarely he would choose to impart to those around him. He had a fantastic sense of humour but he also had demons." Collins became increasingly troubled after international retirement, and in 2013 he was arrested in a department store in Hamamatsu, Japan, for carrying a concealed kitchen knife. Friends said he had been carrying it for self-defence after he had been threatened; Collins himself said he was "relieved" to have been arrested, as he feared for his life.
With strong family support, he managed to put his life back on track with his wife Alana and daughter Ayla. The couple died after their car was struck by a bus at a toll booth outside the southern French town of Béziers. Alana was driving. No one in the bus was harmed, but Ayla was airlifted to a hospital in Montpellier in what French police called a "desperate" condition".
Jerry Collins, rugby union player: born 4 November 1980; married Alana Madill (died 2015; one daughter); died 5 June 2015.Reuse content