Jerry Collins: New Zealand star's legendary Barnstaple outing

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When Jerry Collins played for Barnstaple 2nd XV

"Hei maumaharatanga ki te tino hoa," wrote Barnstaple Rugby Club on Facebook on Friday morning. It's Maori for "in remembrance of friends".

The deaths of New Zealand international Jerry Collins and his wife have shaken the rugby world and the club - located in a small north Devon town - are mourning not just a sporting hero, but a friend.

Barnstaple RFC, whose first team play in the fifth tier of English rugby, felt the warmth of an All Black - capable of being ruthlessly aggressive on the field of play - when he donned their red colours in 2007.

This was no charity appearance, it was no promotional event, it was simply a man capped 48 times by the most dominant rugby nation on earth wishing to play and, in doing so, creating memories for some at the game's grassroots level.

Barnstaple RFC Tweet
Collins had a profound impact on Barnstaple RFC when a chance meeting led to a 2nd XV outing

A humble welcome

After a shock defeat by France in Cardiff - during a Rugby World Cup campaign in which Collins captained the All Blacks in some games - the then 26-year-old visited family in Barnstaple.

While some sporting stars choose the beaches of Dubai to unwind after the stresses of a tournament, the less flashy surroundings of North Devon perhaps at least offered a degree of anonymity, until a chance meeting at a local cafe.

Barnstaple director of rugby Kevin Squire could not resist an introduction. He was met by "a very polite and unassuming" man, who would quickly spark incredible excitement at the club.

"I mentioned the club and invited him to come down and watch a game but of course never expected him to turn up," said Squire.

The club's secretary Alan White added: "I was in the club bar and saw this face I thought I knew but you don't see many Samoans in Barnstaple. He had a few pints and just said he wanted a game."

Jerry Collins
Jerry Collins told Barnstaple staff he wanted a game the day before his appearance for their second string

'He called Dan Carter'

Never did Barnstaple think the day would arrive when they turned down the chance to field a man who captained New Zealand.

But that was the reality as Squire explained that without being registered, not even a man known worldwide for his tough-tackling style could appear at 24 hours' notice.

"What about the seconds or thirds?" asked Collins, who played at flanker or centre. "You can, but the lads will never believe us," Squire responded.

And so the rumour mill was fuelled, the second string's trip to Newton Abbot suddenly invigorated by the unthinkable: Collins - playing in a World Cup quarter-final less than a month earlier - was set for Rackerhayes, home of Newton Abbot RFC.

Jerry Collins plays at Newton Abbott
The surroundings at Rackerhayes were a little different to where Collins played for the All Blacks

"There was a rumour and I didn't believe it. But there he was running out and I couldn't believe it," added White. Collins had even popped to a sports shop to buy boots.

Still on the books of Wellington-based Super Rugby outfit Hurricanes, Collins could have been forgiven for looking at an uneven playing surface, wonky goalposts with a crisp chill in the air as a north Devon experience worth missing.

But in these humble surroundings his sprinkle of stardust offered an experience the small number of people present could scarcely believe.

Jerry Collins with Barnstaple Development XV manager Jim Hudson
Barnstaple Development XV manager Jim Hudson was one of many to pose with the late Jerry Collins in 2007

"We are sat there in Newton Abbot's dressing room and he actually goes on the phone and calls Dan Carter to say 'you wouldn't believe where I am'," recalls Barnstaple seconds prop Trevor Wayborn with a smile.

"We asked him what he'd do to warm up he said 'the same as you bro'."

'Can I wear your socks?'

Like other amateur sides, Barnstaple seconds includes its usual smattering of weekend warriors - the men who swap hard work on the day job for a bruising on the rugby pitch for 80 minutes a week.

Trevor Wayborn and Jerry Collins
Collins posed with the injured Trevor Wayborn after the match at Newton Abbot in 2007 was abandoned

Collins served up some punishment, denying a try-scoring opportunity, but it was his presence and willing to engage in the spirit of a sport where camaraderie is so prized that stood out.

"I actually hurt my neck that day," added Wayborn, whose injury caused the match to be abandoned. "I never got into the team photo and that was the one thing I desperately wanted - my photo taken with Jerry Collins just to prove this had happened.

"He lay down on the floor next to me and had his photo taken with my head being held until the ambulance came to pick me up."

Barnstaple FC socks in a cartoon
Collins's use of Barnstaple socks while playing for Barbarians has become the stuff of legend at the club

And back in the clubhouse, Collins asked his team-mates for the day if he could wear their club socks while playing for Barbarians against South Africa at Twickenham a month later.

"There is Jerry Collins of New Zealand and Barnstaple," said commentator Stuart Barnes as the Kiwi strode into challenge wearing red socks.

Squire added: "That was just incredible. A once-in-a-lifetime thing and he wore the socks with pride, put the club on the map and will remain a friend of ours forever."

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