BY STEVEN SMITH
Jerry Collins, a legendary All Black, who set the team on course for the success they have enjoyed at the last two Rugby World Cups, tragically died with his partner in a car crash on the 5th June 2015. He would have been 35 today.
The couples three-month-old daughter, Ayla, survived the crash but with terrible injuries. She is now in the care of Madill’s parents and while she has made an astonishing recovery, the little girl faces years of intensive medical attention.
French crash investigators say Collins’ final courageous act involved him throwing his body over his daughter to protect her from the impact.
Known as the human wrecking ball, Collins accumulated 48 Test caps for New Zealand between 2001 and 2007, three of which were as Captain.
He ended his international career to play in Europe and Japan after All Blacks lost to France in the 2007 World Cup quarter-finals.
Later that year, in one of rugby’s great stories, Collins famously turned out for Barnstaple’s second XV against Newton Abbot while on holiday in Devon. He also wore the team’s socks when he played for Barbarians in a win over South Africa in December 2007.
Following his death tributes from rugby players, fans, coaches from all over the world poured in, displaying just how iconic of a figure the powerful back-rower was and still is.
Playing at blindside flanker – though he was equally comfortable at No 8, Collins formed part of one of the most formidable back row units ever assembled alongside the All Blacks current skipper Richie McCaw and Rodney So’oialo throughout the mid-2000s.
Samoa-born Collins also spent two years in Japan playing for Yamaha Jubilo from 2011-2013, before joining French second-tier side Narbonne in January 2015.