Rugby Union 3 years ago

We'll miss you, Jerry

  • We'll miss you, Jerry

I cried when I heard Jerry Collins is dead.

There was a moment of disbelief as my mother and I listened to the news. The former All Black and staunch Wellingtonian had been killed, along with his partner Alana, when a bus hit their car in Southern France.

Then we cried, floored by that strange echo of desolation you get when someone you loved - but never actually knew - passes away.

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And in our household, we had loved Jerry.

"It doesn't seem right," Mum said, wiping her eyes, "For Jerry to go like that."

It doesn't seem right. Jerry Collins was supposed to be indestructible; no matter what colour jersey he wore, he was Superman. When he made one of his tackles you felt it in your living room.

He was a huge presence, running with the ball the opposition would commit two players to bring him down. He'd crash over the tryline - or occasionally dance over it after making a run like he was an outside back - and there would be that smile. Broad and joyful and unashamedly uncool. The smile of a guy doing what he loved best in the world.

He'd give his teammates a hug, or a fistbump, or (in the early days) the Hurricane Salute. And all the while his smile could have lit up the country from the Cake Tin to the East Coast.

Off the field, with young fans, he was both genuine and generous. I have a photo with him, taken at a Hurricanes fan event, where he stands with a hand on my shoulder. It's a big hand. I remember how huge he was, or how huge he seemed in comparison to 14-year-old me. He asked if I played rugby, and when I said yes, he told me to always tackle low. "No one can run if you got their legs," he said, then grinned and chuckled and went to take the next photo with another stunned kid.

Rugby will miss him. It will miss the thing right at the heart of him - above everything else, he loved to play.

From north Wellington with his sprawling family, to England, to Canada - Jerry loved to play.

Shortly after retiring from rugby he caused a bit of bother turning out to play league for North City against Wainuiomata. He just wanted to throw a ball around, and the teams were pleased to have him involved - he had cousins in both. He bought the drinks after the match.

When English club Barnstaple invited him to come down to their club on a Saturday, he went - much to the surprise of the club president. And Jerry wasn't at a rugby club to stand on the sidelines, he wanted to play. When the rules said he couldn't just show up and play for the firsts, he happily turned out for the seconds.

There are All Blacks who have never donned their club kit, but Jerry played for Norths whenever he had half a chance. (Usually without telling the Hurricanes or All Blacks management first.)

Players who would've never got to play an All Black now cherish memories of when they too had the chance to face up to Jerry Collins and try to tackle low.

To call Jerry a smiling assassin would be accurate, but it wouldn't be true. He played with a smile not to disguise his intent, or to strike fear into his opponents, but to let the whole world know he loved rugby. His play could be brutal, and it was always uncompromising.

But at his best, Jerry played rugby with absolute joy.

And it's that joy we will miss, so very much.

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