Former All Black Jerry Collins and his wife die in French car accident, baby girl in critical condition
Former New Zealand back row Jerry Collins has died in a car accident in France in the early hours of Friday morning.
Thirty-four-year-old Collins was travelling near the town of Beziers in southern France when his car was involved in a collision with a bus at 4.30am local time.
Collins' wife Alana Madill died in the accident and the crash has also left the couple's baby daughter Ayla in a critical condition in hospital.
"The news has shocked us all and our thoughts are with Jerry and Alana's families at this terribly sad time," New Zealand general manager Neil Sorensen said.
We are shocked and saddened by reports about the accident involving Jerry.— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) June 5, 2015
"We offer our deepest condolences to them and will support them as they come to terms with this devastating news."
Collins' long-term manager Tim Castle released a statement on behalf of the family.
"The family and I are distraught at the death of a much-loved son, brother and friend, and his partner Alana, whom I got to know recently," Castle said.
"I have been in touch with Jerry's father Frank and other members of his family who are in Samoa at the moment. It's obviously a terribly difficult time for them and together with New Zealand rugby we are doing all we can to support them.
Terrible news about Jerry Collins & his wife in France. Thoughts are with his family.— Brian O'Driscoll (@BrianODriscoll) June 5, 2015
Terrible news to wake up to about Jerry Collins and his wife's passing keeping his family and friends in my thoughts and prayers— Bryan Habana (@BryanHabana) June 5, 2015
Unbelievably tragic news to wake up to about Jerry Collins and his wife. Lucky enough to play against and with him. Great bloke and player— Adam Jones (@adamjones3) June 5, 2015
Terribly sad news about Jerry Collins and his wife. Tragic car accident. Pray for their little one to pull through.— Will Greenwood (@WillGreenwood) June 5, 2015
Can't believe the news about Jerry Collins and his wife. Very sad day for our great game. What a player. RIP— David Campese (@Davidcampese11) June 5, 2015
"I have also been in touch with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who are also doing everything they can to ensure that baby Ayla is getting all the care and support she needs. I am very grateful for their support.
"The family would also like to thank everyone for their messages of support and have asked for privacy at this time."
Collins played 48 times for the All Blacks in a seven-year international career that spanned the 2003 and 2007 World Cups.
Collins announced his international retirement in 2008 and subsequently joined Top 14 side Toulon before moving to Wales to play for Ospreys.
Collins signed a deal with second division French club in January having not played rugby since finishing up with Japanese club Yamaha two years ago. In the years in between he worked in the security industry in Canada.
He is a cousin of former All Blacks captain and Hurricanes teammate Tana Umaga and played for eight seasons with the Hurricanes in Super Rugby and amassed 47 provincial caps for Wellington dating back to 1999.
Collins was signed by the French club for former Leinster flanker Rocky Elsom and president Anthony Hill was delighted with their purchase in the New Year.
"We looked for a hard back-row," Hill said at the time.
"From near and far, the best forward on the market at that time of the year is Jerry, and the fact that he has signed with us is a great boost for the team."
Brian O'Driscoll was among those to pay tribute to the powerhouse backrow.
"Terrible news about Jerry Collins & his wife in France. Thoughts are with his family," he posted on his Twitter account.
All Blacks past and present were among those to pay tribute to Collins on Twitter after news of his death emerged.
"Very sad day to hear a team mate , and our very good friend Jerry Collins has passed. #allblacklegend," Collins' former New Zealand and Hurricanes team-mate Piri Weepu tweeted.
"Such sad news about Jerry, his wife & baby.... R.I.P Hitman,'' Cory Jane wrote, while Charles Piutau posted ''R.I.P Jerry Collins and his wife. Prayers to the baby and the family in this time.#legendofthegame #hitman.''
Other figures from the world of rugby also took to Twitter to express their condolences.
Wales captain Sam Warburton tweeted: ''What a huge loss. Inspiration to many young players growing up including myself. RIP Jerry Collins and his wife Alana. Best wishes baby Ayla.''
Former England scrum-half Matt Dawson wrote: ''Terrible news about Mr & Mrs Jerry Collins. Jerry was the @JONAHTALILOMU of the forwards. A rugby inspiration of his time.''