17 Jun 2015

Tributes to 'larger than life' Jerry Collins

6:05 pm on 17 June 2015

About 4000 people farewelled rugby player Jerry Collins in a memorial service today that was both moving and uproarious.

Ma'a Nonu speaks at Jerry Collins' funeral.

Ma'a Nonu speaks at Jerry Collins' funeral. Photo: Twitter/ @JennySalesa

Friends, family, former teammates and coaches paid tribute to Collins at a packed house at Porirua's Te Rauparaha Arena.

The cover of the memorial booklet at Jerry Collins' funeral.

The cover of the memorial booklet at Jerry Collins' funeral. Photo: Facebook/ Mark Sosene

The public service was a colourful affair - some wore the strips of Collins' former teams Northern United, the Hurricanes, and the All Blacks.

The 34-year-old former All Black and his partner Alana Madill were killed in a car crash in France two weeks ago. Their baby daughter Ayla remains in hospital.

After singing the club song with his teammates, Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith's voice cracked with emotion as he described his former teammate as a funny, unique individual.

"He's one of the guys who built the identity of the club that we now play for," he said.

Other All Blacks at the service included captain Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Sonny Bill Williams, and coach Steve Hanson.

All Blacks and Hurricanes teammate Ma'a Nonu paid tribute to his "close friend" and reminisced about being in awe of Collins as a young player.

The mood of the service was not entirely solemn as Collins was described as a larger-than-life character.

His manager and friend Tim Castle said anyone who spent a few hours in the company of "fiercely intellectual" Collins would never forget it.

Castle revealed the former All Black was considering an offer to appear on a reality television show.

"Only a few weeks ago, Jerry, Alana, and I were enjoying the prospect that Jerry might zip back to New Zealand to accept an invitation to be on the television show Dancing with the Stars," he said.

Family members remember 'hero'

Members of Alana Madill's family made the trip from Canada for the service.

Her father, Darrell Madill, said when she started dating Collins, he had no idea who he was.

"I said 'so what does he do?' and she said 'I think he was a pretty good athlete in New Zealand'," he said. "Two days later I said to my wife, 'you know I'm going to check that Jerry Collins on the internet'."

Members of the Collins family then paid their own tributes to Jerry.

Brenda Collins said the past 12 days had made her realise how much her brother achieved in life.

"You planned to return home soon with Alana and baby but God had a better plan. Jerry we are proud of you, we love you, we will miss you," she said.

She suggested that Collins had died trying to protect his daughter.

"Jerry... you were a hero on that last ride with baby," she said.

The final prayer was read by Father Lu Collins, Jerry's uncle.

After the service, All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu said Collins was the perfect teammate.

"We all loved him and, through thick and thin, he was always there for you... We all miss him and we'll all carry him in our hearts but he is the person that he was right until the end," he said.

Collins' coffin was carried away by former teammates.

His body was returned to his family and was taken in a procession through Porirua on Sunday.

All Blacks great Michael Jones after the funeral service.

All Blacks great Michael Jones after the funeral service in Porirua Photo: RNZ / Max Towle

All Blacks great Jonah Lomu

Another All Blacks great - Lonah Lomu Photo: RNZ / Max Towle

The crowd at Porirua's Te Rauparaha Arena.

The crowd at Porirua's Te Rauparaha Arena during the service Photo: RNZ/ Max Towle

Jerry Collins

Jerry Collins during his time playing for the All Blacks Photo: AFP

Porirua march for Jerry Collins

Crowds marched in Porirua to honour Jerry Collins on Sunday. Photo: RNZ / Daniela Maoate-Cox

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