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'The flame of rugby flickers on' - Tributes pour in for legend Jerry Collins
The 34-year-old former All Black lost his life this morning in the south of France.

TRIBUTES HAVE BEEN pouring in from around the rugby world for Jerry Collins after this morning’s shocking news of his untimely death.

Rugby Union - Jerry Collins File Photo PA ARCHIVE IMAGES Collins was capped 48 times by the All Blacks. PA ARCHIVE IMAGES

34-year-old Collins and his wife, Alana Madill, were killed when a bus crashed into their car in the south of France, an accident which has also left their three-month-old daughter, Ayla, in a critical condition.

Words simply can’t compensate for the sadness of events like this one, but they can give us an account of how special a player and teammate Collins was to so many in the rugby world.

There is universal grief at the news, as well as a collective remembrance of an individual who did things his way and loved the game.

“He was his own man, a true individual, and a giant of the world game,” reads a statement from the Ospreys, where Collins spent two seasons of his career.

Toulon have announced that they will wear black armbands during their Top 14 semi-final against Stade Français this evening, while the Hurricanes paid their respects by beating the Highlanders 56-20 in Super Rugby back in Wellington.

There have been similar messages from the All Blacks, Narbonne and many, many other rugby clubs that Collins didn’t play for. The tributes from his former teammates and other rugby players and coaches are already in their hundreds.

Collins’ manager, Tim Castle, shared the following message on behalf of the ex-All Black’s family:

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“The family and I are distraught at the death of a much-loved son, brother and friend, and his partner Alana, whom I got to know recently.

I have been in touch with Jerry’s father Frank and other members of his family who are in Samoa at the moment. It’s obviously a terribly difficult time for them and together with New Zealand rugby we are doing all we can to support them.

I have also been in touch with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who are also doing everything they can to ensure that baby Ayla is getting all the care and support she needs. I am very grateful for their support.

“The family would also like to thank everyone for their messages of support and have asked for privacy at this time.”

Among the countless tributes to Collins on social media, one famous story about the man stood out in summing up what makes him a rugby legend.

The powerhouse back row loved club rugby and everything it stood for, sometimes returning to play for his Norths club in Wellington without permission from the All Blacks or the Hurricanes.

The following was written by Peter FitzSimons in the Sydney Morning Herald back in 2007, encapsulating Collins’ spirit and his love for the game.

You might recall TFF mentioned a couple of weeks ago how refreshing it was to hear that Jerry Collins, the famed All Blacks No.6, had played a game of reserve grade for a village team in Britain, simply because he had been taking some R&R nearby, had been asked, and wanted to help out. Last weekend, the Sunday Times provided a few more details. Collins turned out for the Barnstaple Seconds, against Newton Abbott. Certainly, Collins dropped back four gears so as not to destroy the game, and yet at one point, when the Newton Abbot wing Aidan Tolley was about to score, the ball tucked under his left arm and his right arm raised in celebration, Collins’s killer instinct was too strong.

“He didn’t see me coming,” Collins told the Times. “I caught him in the air, faced him the other way and carried him back a few yards. He said, ‘Damn, it, you could have let me score that.’ ‘I couldn’t help myself,’ I said.”Late in the game, it was one of Barnstaple’s props who couldn’t help himself.

The prop was injured and waiting for a stretcher to remove him, when he noted a concerned Collins standing over him.

“Any chance of a photo, Jerry?” he said. Collins obliged, lying on the ground by the prop so the photo could be taken. Once the game was over, Collins didn’t just leave, but went back to the clubhouse and got to know his fellow reserve-graders. They bonded further. And Collins took a decision.

“I have asked the Barnstaple guys,” Collins told the Sunday Times, “if it would be OK for me to wear their socks when I play for the Barbarians against South Africa at Twickenham. I have played for the club and it’s something I would like to do.”

Ladies and gentlemen, the flame of rugby flickers on the way it should, even this far into the professional era! Bravo, Jerry Collins.

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