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.”
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.