All Blacks enforcer Jerry Collins announced his retirement from New Zealand rugby yesterday but said he had made no decision on joining the exodus of top players overseas.
The announcement had been widely expected, with rumors circulating the 109kg Samoan-born flanker known as “hitman” was destined to join nine other All Blacks from last year’s World Cup who have signed for foreign clubs.
But Collins did not reveal what his next move was, except to say he wanted to make a “clean and dignified break” after being allowed an early release from his New Zealand Rugby Union contract.
“Actually from today, I am unemployed,” the 27-year-old veteran of 48 Tests — three of them as captain — told a press conference.
The decision was made during the last week or so and Collins said he had no overseas contract offers to consider.
“But I’ve been thinking about things for a while and I know in my heart that it’s time to step back. That’s just where I’m at,” he said.
Collins made it clear he was playing his last match for his Super 14 franchise, the Wellington Hurricanes, in the dying stages of their 33-22 semi-final loss on Saturday to the Canterbury Crusaders.
Not usually trusted with kicking duties, Collins stepped up to take the last conversion kick in a valedictory gesture.
By his own high standards, Collins had a relatively quiet Super 14 season in a campaign disrupted by injury.
“It’s really difficult for me to talk about myself but I know I’ve always been totally committed to every minute of every game and that’s the way I want to go out,” he said.
“I wanted to leave at the right time, and after thinking about things over the past week and then getting through Saturday night’s match, that time is now,” he said.
Collins was one of the most popular All Blacks since his debut in 2001, contrasting a friendly, easy-going manner off the field with bone-crunching tackles and rampaging runs on it.
He was easy to spot with the top half of his flat-top haircut bleached blond to replicate the gold and black colors of his beloved Wellington and Hurricanes provincial teams.
New Zealand players and officials lined up to heap praise on a performer loved by fans and feared by opponents.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry praised Collins’ uncompromising style of play and contribution to the national team.
“Jerry has been a key member of the All Blacks team for a number of years and played a major role in some of our best performances,” Henry said.
All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen said Collins could always be relied on to perform.
“He has always been his own man and done things his own way, and that way has served the All Blacks well over the last seven years,” Hansen said.