Jerry Collins became a cult figure during his career with the All Blacks – his free-wheeling, hard- hitting style endearing him to all who appreciated the sport’s most rugged aspects. But in May 2008, Collins retired from international rugby – perhaps prematurely, given he was only 27 years old. He joined French club Toulon before signing a two-year deal with Welsh club Ospreys.
As a seasoned, well-travelled pro, Collins is better equipped than most to assess the long-standing rivalry btween northern and southern hemsipheres.
“The domestic competitions are played in different conditions. Super 14 is very different to the competitions played up here, where it’s lock-stock and there are a lot of bombs,” Collins says. “You almost need to play one game in the wet, one game in the snow and one game in the heat to know which is better out of north and south.”
Life on the Continent
Jerry Collins certainly wasn’t the first Test star to be lured away from international duties by the filthy lucre of club rugby – nor will he be the last. Perhaps predictably, Collins believes players prepared to take the plunge deserve all the rewards they get.
“You’re always going to get players moving on – everyone has their reasons, whether it’s for the money or the experience,” he says. “And fair play to them, because it’s a pretty ballsy thing to do, to leave home, where you’re comfortable and go somewhere else.”
One player who recently bucked the trend is Sonny Bill Williams, who bailed on a lucrative offer to stay at Toulon, heading back to New Zealand to try to make it as an All Black.
“He’s going to be a fucking star,” he says. “He’ll play for the All Blacks, no problem and he’ll be a good one. You go through your career and you see guys who are just magic.”
Missing the All Blacks
It’s not uncommon for retired Test players to lose touch with the international game in the months after leaving the fold. Perhaps, it helps them adjust to life outside the top level. But Collins, although he pulled the plug of his own volition, remains as keen a follower of the All Blacks as ever.
“I still take an interest for sure,” he says. “It’s a great thing coming over here – there are people from all over – Italians, Argentinians and everyone keeps an eye on their original countries. There’s always a fair bit of banter and it’s good when your team is doing well.”
So does he miss it? Does he miss running out for New Zealand?
“Everybody misses it – I’d be pissing in a bucket if I told you I didn’t. When you’re playing for the All Blacks, you’re always in front of a big crowd and there’s a lot on the line. You’re representing something bigger than yourself.
World Cup dreaming
Collins could still be running around for the All Blacks; he could be looking forward to a World Cup on home soil to the end of next year. As a veteran of two campaigns, Collins recalls his two World Cup with a measure of disappointment, but also pride.
“The last couple of Cups, we just couldn’t quite get there,” he says. “We weren’t able to win when it mattered, but I was just happy to have played in them and, let’s be honest, I think I played quite well in them.”
Collins believes the All Blacks are among the favourites for next year’s tournament – of course they are – but points out that, as ever, it will all boil down to who produces their best at the business-end of the tournament.
“During those knockout stages, you need to have the three best games of your life and hope that the rest of the guys are all firing at the right time.”
» You can watch Jerry Collins in action when he plays for Tani Fuga’s Testimonial All Stars team on Friday, August 6. An elite Southern Hemisphere team play Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop, kick-off at 7.30pm. Tickets only £10 & £5