New Zealand blindside flanker Jerry Collins had a ferocious reputation
Major teams: Wellington, Hurricanes, Ospreys, Toulon
Country: New Zealand
Test span: 2001-07
Test caps: 48 (42 starts)
Test points: 25 (5T)
There are back-rows who have been capped more, players with World Cups to their names and players who perhaps have toed the line more, but few had the impact or indeed cult following that Collins had.
Born in Samoa, Collins moved to Auckland as a young child. Rugby ran in his blood, with All Black legend Tana Umaga a cousin, along with Newcastle wing Sinoti Sinoti, so it was no surprise that he breezed through the New Zealand age grades.
On the field he was ferocious and utterly relentless, with his distinctive bleached blond ‘Guinness’ top acting as a warning beacon for attackers. In 2003 he knocked out Colin Charvis with a bone-rattling tackle. But off the pitch, Collins was a warm, unconventional figure who was happier sharing a pint with a few locals than playing up to the celebrity lifestyle.
He played his Super Rugby with the Hurricanes but was best known to northern hemisphere fans as part of a formidable All Black back-row unit with Richie McCaw and Rodney So’oialo.
“He’s one of the most special players who will ever wear a black jersey,” said All Black great Michael Jones. “He took the No 6 jersey to new dimensions. The game became a lot more physical and confrontational. Jerry brought that level of physicality and brutal influence.”
Collins played in two World Cups and won five Tri-Nations tournaments, where his uncompromising style as a hard-running blindside won him many admirers. Despite his happy-go-lucky persona, he had the honour of leading the All Blacks on three occasions before retiring from Test duty in 2007 to seek adventure in Europe.
In 2008 he famously turned out for Barnstaple after a chance conversation in a pub, even going on to wear their socks in a Barbarians game.
After a year with Toulon, he headed to West Wales with the Ospreys, driving them to the Pro12 title. A loveable rogue, he quipped to coaches that it had been the first year he hadn’t been arrested.
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There followed a stint in Japan with the Yamaha Engines where he was arrested for carrying a knife, until at 32, he packed up his kitbag and left the game to work in security in Canada.
He was drawn back to rugby for one final hurrah after an offer from French D2 side Narbonne to be their medical joker. Tragically, this year he was killed in a car crash in the South of France with his wife Alana, sparking widespread grief in the game. JC was a much-loved maverick who was taken from us far too soon.