All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has paid tribute to his former loose forward partner Jerry Collins, saying he was a loyal and intelligent team-mate with an awe-inspiring physical presence.
McCaw was in Auckland with his Crusaders team-mates on Friday when he learned of Collins' death in a car crash in France and said a sense of shock set in as the social media reports were confirmed.
"There are a couple of guys like Dan [Carter] and myself who played a lot of rugby with him and know him pretty well," McCaw said. "But even some of the young fellas who watched him on TV have a story about watching him play. They loved the way he went about his game.
"I think I played 30 or 40 tests with him and at age grade as well and it was a damned sight better to have him in your team than the opposition, I can tell you. You always had to keep a wee eye out for him. It's very sad. He was a unique character and it is sad that has happened.
"It was a shock and one of those things that you don't know how to react. To be honest, I hadn't seen him for a while - since he has been away playing overseas.
"When you reflect on memories, he, Rodney [So'oialo] and I played a fair few tests together and you build together being team-mates like that; going through certain situations. To not have him around anymore is sad.
"I can remember in 2003 - I was talking to Aaron Mauger about this - and the World Cup quarter-final against South Africa. [Collins] absolutely flattened Thinus Delport and the whole team looked at that and probably subconsciously took a step back. And our team probably went the other way and it is moments like that I certainly enjoyed having him in my team.
"He did the same against us [Crusaders] when he got Chris Jack a year later. You know when a guy is capable of something like that you would much rather have him in your team. I'd always have a wee eye out for him, especially when you had the ball.
"You always knew he had your back. He was in the senior leadership group. He didn't say a lot. He would say some things that would sometimes be random and sometimes be bang on. He would sit and listen. He was a smart man but he didn't want to give that impression. He was pretty onto it and he offered a different perspective.
"Unique is probably the right word. He was hugely generous to people. He would turn up and do things with kids that perhaps the hard person that you'd see at time didn't match up. He'd give his time willingly to people and touch people in a way that others would never consider."
Veteran Blues hooker Keven Mealamu also spoke fondly of Collins, and also paid tribute to his former All Black team-mate's free spirit.
"He was a special man. I think a lot of people saw him as a physical presence on the field but I don't think many people knew he was an intelligent man off the field, too. He was his own man as well.
"I remember after trainings, if guys were going out to dinner, he would be the type of person to go down to the local pub and catch up with the locals. I had a lot of time for him. He was a free spirit. I knew on the field he had your back.
Mealamu said the strong friendship between the pair probably helped him avoid the notorious tackles Collins was capable of.
"I was lucky enough not to be on the wrong end of it but I was in close enough proximity to see my team-mates on the receiving end.
"On the field, his presence was amazing. You could see players in other teams when they caught the ball looking around to see where Jerry was."