Funeral tributes to All Blacks star
Thousands of mourners including rugby greats Jonah Lomu and Tana Umaga have attended the funeral of former All Black Jerry Collins who was remembered as a "wicked, mischievous young man" who "never forgot where he came from".
Collins, 34, was killed along with his Canadian partner Alana Madill in a car accident near Beziers in southern France on June 5. The couple's three-month-old daughter Ayla remains in a serious condition in a French hospital.
More than 3,000 people packed the Te Rauparaha Arena in the working class suburb of Porirua, north of Wellington, New Zealand, where Collins was raised. Many thousands more stood outside as family, friends and former team-mates remembered the famous All Blacks "hard man".
Collins, a powerfully-built flanker, known as "the Terminator" for his bone-crunching tackles, played 48 tests for New Zealand between 2001 and 2007.
A biography on the New Zealand Rugby website said Collins "was one of the toughest and most uncompromising forwards to ever play for the All Blacks and his ferocious tackling and intimidating presence made him feared by every opponent".
Former All Blacks captain Umaga, who was Collins' cousin, remembered a man who off the field was forthright but gentle.
"As people have said, Jerry was a unique person," Umaga said. "I was fortunate enough to be related to him. He didn't mince his words. If he liked you, you knew that. If he didn't, you knew that too."
Collins played Super Rugby for the Wellington-based Hurricanes until 2008, then played for Toulon in France, Ospreys in the UK and Japanese side Yamaha Jubilo. He was playing for the French second division club Narbonne at the time of his death.
Umaga said Collins had no thoughts of retirement and would continue to play rugby as long as he was able, to support his partner and child and his extended family in Porirua.
He first played at an amateur level for the Northern United club in Porirua and for his school, St Patrick's College. Current pupils from St. Patrick's acted as ushers at the funeral service which was also attended by All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and flyhalf Dan Carter.
Many mourners wore All Blacks, Hurricanes and Northern United jerseys.
Collins' manager and close friend Tim Castle said Collins was respected for being unchanged by fame.
"A wicked, mischievous young man, Jerry rejected any notion of being a cult figure," he said. "He was respected and admired for just being himself."
Hurricanes and All Blacks team-mate Ma'a Nonu said Collins "loved playing for the Hurricanes, but most of all we loved playing for each other".
Current Hurricanes captain and All Blacks centre Conrad Smith said Collins' death "showed us all there's more to life than sports. It is just a game".
"In the two weeks of grief we've witnessed, we realise what an impact he had in the game," he said. "In his own unique way he left the world a better place."