It is profoundly sad that in the last three years five former All Blacks from the professional age have died.

It is also genuinely shocking to think that Jerry Collins, Jonah Lomu, Norm Berryman, Sione Lauaki and now Dylan Mika have all gone.

Mika, who passed away on Tuesday, was the oldest of the five and yet he was only 45.
The hardest part to make sense of is not just the horribly young age these men were taken.

Read more: Former All Black and Samoan star Dylan Mika dies of suspected heart attack


It is the fact that all of them became admired, respected and revered national figures as a result of their phenomenal power, athleticism and impact when they were in their prime.
All five of the prematurely departed would rank among the most explosive players to have graced the world stage.

They were all big characters, big-hearted personalities who were very much their own men with their own quirks, foibles and way of playing.

But there was a common thread uniting them all, which was their incredible size and ability to carry it and use it effectively.

Auckland flanker Dylan Mika takes on Wellington's Kupu Vanisi (left) and Jerry Collins in 2000. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Auckland flanker Dylan Mika takes on Wellington's Kupu Vanisi (left) and Jerry Collins in 2000. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

Collins, with biceps the size of a leg of ham, was a human wrecking ball and it was his destructive prowess that made him an international star.

No one tackled harder than Collins and he was often a one-man sideshow, the crowd just waiting for him to do his thing.

Berryman was a free spirit: a 110kg free spirit and who, other than those tasked with tackling him, didn't love it when he had the ball and a head of steam?

Mika and Lauaki were loose forwards who took ball-carrying to new levels and the latter, curiously, won his All Blacks selection after a stunning performance against them for the Pacific Islanders in 2004.

And then of course there was Lomu – the greatest combination of speed, power and agility ever seen on a rugby field.

Memories of all five thundering around, scaring the living daylights out of other grown men are still alarmingly fresh.

And that is where the tragedy in all this lies – the impossibly short timeframe that elapsed between these brilliant players enthralling global audiences to having their eulogies written.

What is too sadly apparent in hindsight is how difficult it was for all five to make the transition from professional rugby to 'normal life'.

Many great players have struggled to leave the glory days behind, but typically the biggest issue is dealing with the psychological aspects of no longer being so prominently in the public eye; no longer having the daily routines, the shared purpose and the sense of being defined.

But what the early deaths of Lomu, Lauaki, Berryman and Mika may have shown, is that for these enormously powerful and supersized men, there was a significant and maybe not fully understood physical challenge in that transition.

Jonah Lomu avoids a tackle from Norm Berryman in a Super Rugby clash in 2000. Photo / Getty
Jonah Lomu avoids a tackle from Norm Berryman in a Super Rugby clash in 2000. Photo / Getty

As players, their respective coaches wanted them to be pushing the boundaries physically – to be bigger and more powerful than those they played against.

As players they were under the watchful eye of expert conditioning coaches; had access to nutritionists and good food and were exposed to the power of peer pressure to train the house down.

But even then it was still a constant battle for all four to manage their weight and their health – to strike that balance between being big enough to be destructive yet with the required agility and mobility.

That battle to stay healthy was obviously harder again in retirement and maybe if there is something to learn from their respective deaths, it is the need to help current players manage their physical transition out of rugby.

It doesn't take long for some of the big men to become worryingly big men. Blues and All Blacks lock Patrick Tuipulotu plays at 130kg, but he says that when he missed all of the 2015 season due to major injury, he finished the year at 155kg.

Plenty of other big men – Ben Tameifuna, Charlie Faumuina and Joe Moody – have struggled to keep their weight in check and all of them would no doubt say they would welcome help, when the time comes, in making a smooth transition into non-playing life.

One where they can successfully manage their diet and lifestyle and live long and healthy lives.

In the meantime, the rugby world will have to come to terms with the fact it has lost five stunning athletes; five enormous men in every sense and five big holes have been left now they have gone.