The Jerry Collins factor was front and centre for Hurricanes supporters in their Super Rugby semi-final rout of the Brumbies and his memory burned inside the players too.
Chants of “Jerry Jerry” echoed around Westpac Stadium in the closing minutes of the 29-9 win which booked the Hurricanes a home final against the Highlanders on Saturday.
It was their first game at the venue since the death of former All Blacks flanker Collins three weeks earlier in a car crash in France.
Collins played eight seasons for the Hurricanes and was a teammate of several current players, all of whom grieved at his funeral last week in Porirua.
Captain Conrad Smith couldn’t deny there had been an emotional tinge to the last weeks of their push for a maiden title.
“It’s hard to quantify but it is definitely playing its part,” Smith said.
“We don’t want to focus on it. We acknowledge it but we let it burn inside and it comes out in its own special way.”
A giant No.6 jersey was unveiled before kickoff and bay six of the stadium was filled with spectators wearing the blue colours of Collins’ former club Northern United.
The players had the initials “JC” embroidered onto their sleeves and produced the sort of robust performance Collins would have appreciated in the four-tries-to-nil outcome.
Coach Chris Boyd labelled the performance of blindside flanker Brad Shields and No.8 Victor Vito – the two positions Collins used to play – as “unbelievable”, helping the hosts shut the Brumbies out of the game.
Smith hailed the impact of the sold-out crowd of 34,000, which will inevitably be repeated seven days on.
“I’d play for a few more years if I could have that every week.
“It’s brilliant to know we’ll have it again next week.”