All Black legend Jerry Collins died 'protecting his baby girl'
Legendary rugby figure Jonah Lomu led the tributes to Jerry Collins yesterday, praising the former All Black's final act of heroism that saved the life of his young daughter.
The 48-cap New Zealand international and his wife Alana Madill died earlier this month after their car was hit by a bus on a road outside the southern French town of Beziers.
Police said Ms Madill was driving while 34-year-old Collins was in the back seat.
Nearly three thousand mourners attended the funeral service in Wellington, with the great and the good of the New Zealand rugby public offering their support, including captain Richie McCaw, coach Steve Hansen and former captain Tana Umaga, a second cousin of Collins.
Jonah Lomu, himself one of the most feared players of his generation, paid a touching tribute to the powerful flanker.
“What they say about how they found him, he was protecting his baby,” Lomu said. “That’s just typical Jerry. When you talk about putting your body on the line, he did that.”
Chris Masoe, the former All Black currently with Toulon, also noted the bravery of the man not only on the pitch, but in his final act to help save the life of daughter Ayla.
“You made it possible for her to have a chance. That is the man you are,” he said.
His daughter remains in a stable but serious condition in hospital in France.
Umaga described Collins as a unique person with a deep love of rugby who had been revelling in his new role as family man.
“I rest easy in the knowledge that he found love,” he said.
Collins 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 and was named player of the tournament at the Junior World Cup in 1999.
His elevation to the All Blacks in 2001 - at the age of only 20 - was no surprise and, though injury briefly interrupted his international career, he returned to the All Blacks from 2003 to become a first team regular.
Collins had an increasingly troubled personal life after international rugby and, in 2003, was arrested in a department store in Japan for carrying a concealed kitchen knife.
With strong family support, he managed to put his life back on track with Ms Madill, and Ayla was born in January.
He won 48 caps in an international career that spanned from 2001 to 2007.