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Thousands attend former All Black Collins' funeral

AP

Thousands of mourners, including rugby greats Jonah Lomu and Tana Umaga, on Wednesday attended the funeral of former All Black Jerry Collins who was remembered as a “wicked, mischievous young man” who “never forgot where he came from.”

Collins, 34, was killed along with his Canadian partner Alana Madill in a car accident on a highway near Beziers in southern France on June 5. The couple’s three-month-old daughter, Ayla, remains in a serious condition in a French hospital.

More than 3,000 people packed the Te Rauparaha Arena on Wednesday in the blue-collar suburb of Porirua north of Wellington, where Collins was raised. Many thousands more stood outside as family, friends and former teammates remembered the famous All Blacks “hard man.”

Collins was a powerfully-built flanker, known as “the Terminator” for his bone-crunching tackles, who played 48 tests for New Zealand between 2001 and 2007.

A biography on the New Zealand Rugby website said 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.”

Former All Blacks captain Umaga, who was Collins’ cousin, remembered a man who, off the field, was forthright but gentle.

“As people have said, Jerry was a unique person,” Umaga said. “I was fortunate enough to be related to him. He didn’t mince his words. If he liked you, you knew that. If he didn’t, you knew that too.”

Collins played Super Rugby for the Wellington-based Hurricanes until 2008, then played for Toulon in France, Ospreys in England and Japanese side Yamaha Jubilo. He was playing for the French second division club Narbonne at the time of his death.