Rugby great Jonah Lomu paid tribute to Jerry Collins’ last act of heroism on Wednesday as thousands mourned the former New Zealand flanker who was killed in a car crash in France.
Ex-All Black Chris Masoe had told the funeral service in Wellington that Collins’ dying act was to try to protect his three-month-old daughter Ayla in the June 5 crash which killed the player and his partner Alana Madill.
“What they say about how they found him, he was protecting his baby,” Lomu said.
“That’s just typical Jerry. When you talk about putting your body on the line, he did that.”
Masoe said Collins, who was in the back of the car when a bus ploughed into it on a motorway near Beziers, sheltered his daughter with his arms and body when he realised the danger.
“You made it possible for her to have a chance. That is the man you are,” he said.
Madill was driving the car that had come to an unexplained stop on a motorway near Beziers when it was hit by a bus.
His daughter remains in a stable but serious condition in hospital in France.
Almost 3,000 people packed into a sports centre for the service in the gritty Wellington suburb of Porirua, where the Samoa-born Collins grew up and began his rugby career.
Collins’ cousin, former All Black Tana Umaga, described him as a unique person with a deep love of rugby who had been revelling in his new role as family man.
“I rest easy in the knowledge that he found love,” Umaga said.
Current All Black Conrad Smith said Collins had inspired his community, adding that his former Super Rugby team the Wellington Hurricanes were determined to win this year’s title for him.
“He had an impact I don’t think anyone realised. This past week has cast a shadow over the whole of New Zealand,” he said.
Known as the “human wrecking ball” who played with a smile on his face, Collins played 48 Tests for the All Blacks, including three as captain.
He ended his international career to play in Europe and Japan after New Zealand lost to France in the 2007 World Cup quarter-finals.
The 34-year-old was playing for French second division outfit Narbonne at the time of his death.