The rugby world is mourning All Black legend Jerry Collins, killed with his partner Alana Madill in a car crash in France.
Agence France-Presse reports that local officials said they were killed on Friday when a bus crashed into their car in southern France.
Samoa-born and Wellington-raised Collins, 34, who was capped 48 times for New Zealand, was near the town of Beziers when his car came to an unexplained stop, before being hit by the bus.
The couple were also travelling with their baby daughter Ayla, who survived the accident but is in a serious condition, the officials said.
While the Hurricanes paid tribute to their former stalwart by wearing black arm bands and observing a minute’s silence before the Super Rugby game against the Highlanders in Napier on Friday night, SANZAR chief executive Greg Peters remembered him in glowing terms.
“Jerry Collins is an undisputed legend of the game for Wellington, the Hurricanes and the All Blacks,” the former Wellington and Hurricanes boss said in a statement.
“He inspired all of those around him with his passion and love for the game throughout a highly decorated career for club and country.
“A complex character who was sometimes misunderstood, Jerry was a wonderful person who will be sadly missed by all who knew him.”
Hurricanes chief executive James Te Puni Collins was a special part of both the Hurricanes and Wellington Lions over the years.
“He was an extraordinary leader and player, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this time.”
New Zealand Rugby also issued a statement expressing shock and sadness at the deaths of Collins and Ms Madill, and his longstanding manager Tim Castle, speaking on behalf of Collins’ family, said they were all distraught.
“I have been in touch with Jerry’s father Frank and other members of his family who are in Samoa at the moment,” Castle said.
“It’s obviously a terribly difficult time for them and together with New Zealand Rugby we are doing all we can to support them.
“I have also been in touch with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who are also doing everything they can to ensure that baby Ayla is getting all the care and support she needs.”
Collins, a cousin of former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga, made his All Blacks debut in 2001 and played his last Test when losing to France in the 2007 World Cup quarter-finals.
The All Blacks official website describes the loose forward as one of New Zealand’s most feared enforcers.
“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,” it says.
Past and present All Blacks responded with shock and disbelief on social media, while former Wallabies skipper David Pocock, Welshmen George North and Sam Warburton, and Springbok star Bryan Habana were among international players to express their sympathies.
Collins returned to rugby earlier this year after signing with French second division club Narbonne, replacing injured Australian Rocky Elsom.
He had retired from the game two years earlier when finishing up with Japanese club Yamaha.