If a hypothetical selection was being made of New Zealand rugby team composed solely of hard men then Jerry Collins would be on most short lists for one of the loose forward positions.
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. By the time he departed in 2008 he had become something of a folk hero, beyond even his home union, Wellington.
Born in Samoa but coming to New Zealand with his family as a toddler, Collins was a cousin of another of Wellington rugby's favourite sons, Tana Umaga.
Collins grew up in Porirua and was quickly marked for rugby fame and firstly with Tawa College and then the St Patrick's College First XV in Wellington he gained selection in national secondary schools (1997/98) and New Zealand Under 19 sides. Even as a teenager he had an imposing build at 1.90m and 110kg.
After playing for New Zealand Under 19 (which won the IRB World Junior Championship, with Collins named player of the tournament) and the Colts side in 1999, Collins came into the Wellington representative side in the same season. His precocious talent and natural leadership skills were recognised early and at just 18 he captained his club side, Northern United, in Wellington's premier competition.
All his career Collins remained loyal to his Porirua-based club and, even when playing for the All Blacks, would frequently appear at club level, occasionally, it might be suspected, without the explicit approval of the national selectors.
Collins' progress in his first few seasons suffered a couple of major setbacks. In his maiden first class season he suffered a broken leg in an NPC match, which delayed his debut in the Super 12 with the Hurricanes until 2001. Then, having made the All Blacks for the Test against Argentina that season when he was only 20 years old and going on the end-season tour, Collins again suffered an injury in 2002 which ruled him out of playing in the NPC for Wellington.
A strong Super 12 campaign for the Hurricanes in 2003, however, saw him restored to the All Blacks, though most of the 13 Tests he had that year, including six at the World Cup, were as a No 8. It was only in 2004 that he was used more in the position to which he was best suited, blindside flanker. Even then it was not until 2005, and especially the series against the Lions, that Collins became an almost automatic first choice in the No 6 jersey. By this time, too, his Wellington and Hurricanes team-mate Rodney So'oialo had become established in the number 8 spot.
A mark of the increasing mana Collins enjoyed came in 2006 when he was given the captaincy of an All Black side for a Test against Argentina in Buenos Aires. The All Blacks won narrowly and the proud captain famously delivered his speech at the after-match function in perfect Spanish to the delight of the gathered dignitaries. Collins captained the Test side in two more Tests, the pool games at the 2007 Rugby World Cup against Portugal and Romania.
Collins' participation at the 2007 World Cup tournament ended his time in the All Blacks, by which time he had played 50 All Black games, including 48 Tests. Injuries and the ever increasing international programme meant that he played only 47 games for Wellington. He made 85 appearances for the Hurricanes, ending his stint with the team with a last minute conversion in the 2008 semi-final loss to the Crusaders.
For such an illustrious player his acquisition of major titles was surprisingly meagre. He shared in the two World Cup disappointments of 2003 and 2007, was never in a Wellington team which won the Ranfurly or a Hurricanes side which won the Super 12 or Super 14. His many narrow misses were offset only by playing in the Wellington side which won the 2000 NPC title.
Collins bowed out of New Zealand rugby after a Super 14 season in 2008, in which - because of injury - he was never quite at his best. He was still only 27 and his departure seemed premature. Following his departure from New Zealand, Collins travelled extensively and played for club sides in Wales, Japan and France. He was tragically killed together with his partner Alana Madill in a car crash in France on 5 June 2015.
23/06/2001 v Argentina at Christchurch
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Match Record by Year
(+) = substitute; (-) = replaced
Jun 23 v Argentina at Christchurch 67-19 (-)
Nov 13 v Ireland 'A' at Belfast 43-30
Nov 20 v Scotland 'A' at Perth 35-13
Jun 14 v England at Wellington 13-15 (+)
Jun 21 v Wales at Hamilton 55-3
Jun 28 v France at Christchurch 31-23 (-)
Jul 19 v South Africa at Pretoria 52-16
Jul 26 v Australia at Sydney 50-21
Aug 9 v South Africa at Dunedin 19-11
Aug 16 v Australia at Auckland 21-17
Oct 11 v Italy at Melbourne 70-7 (-)
Nov 2 v Wales at Sydney 53-37 (-)
Nov 8 v South Africa at Melbourne 29-9
Nov 15 v Australia at Sydney 10-22 (-)
Nov 20 v France at Sydney 40-13 (-)
Jun 19 v England at Auckland 36-12 (+)
Jun 26 v Argentina at Hamilton 41-7
Jul 10 v Pacific Islanders at Albany 41-26 (+)
Jul 17 v Australia at Wellington 16-7 (+)
Jul 24 v South Africa at Christchurch 23-21
Nov 13 v Italy at Rome 59-10
Nov 27 v France at Paris 45-6
Jun 10 v Fiji at Albany 91-0
Jun 25 v British & Irish Lions at Christchurch 21-3 (-)
Jul 2 v British & Irish Lions at Wellington 48-18 (-)
Jul 9 v British & Irish Lions at Auckland 38-19
Aug 7 v South Africa at Cape Town 16-22
Aug 13 v Australia at Sydney 30-13
Aug 27 v South Africa at Dunedin 31-27
Nov 5 v Wales at Cardiff 41-3
Nov 19 v England at London 23-19
24 Jun vs Argentina at Buenos Aires 25-19
Jul 8 v Australia at Christchurch 32-12
Jul 29 v Australia at Brisbane 13-9 (-)
Aug 19 v Australia at Auckland 34-27
Aug 26 v South Africa at Pretoria 45-26 (+)
Sep 2 v South Africa at Rustenberg 20-21
Nov 12 v France at Lyon 47-3
Nov 19 v France at Paris 23-11
Nov 26 v Wales at Cardiff 45-10 (-)
9 Jun v France at Wellington 61-10
16 Jun v Canada at Hamilton 64-13
23 June v South Africa at Durban 26-21
30 June v Australia at Melbourne 15-20
14 June v South Africa at Christchurch 33-6 (+)
21 June v Australia at Auckland 26-12
8 Sept v Italy (RWC) at Marseille 76-14
15 Sept v Portugal (RWC) at Lyon 108-13 (-)
30 Sept v Romania (RWC) at Toulouse 85-8
7 Sept v France (RWC) at Cardiff 18-20 (-)
Below figures correct at beginning of the 2007 rugby calendar:
Provincial Caps 47
Provincial Points 55 (11t)
Provincial Debut 1999 v Manawatu
Super 14 Caps 69
Super 14 Points 15 (3t)
Super 14 Debut 2001 v Reds