Jerry Collins is one of the few players who finds time for the relatively social scene of club rugby.
With the World Cup edging closer, many coaches are limiting their players’ game time with their provinces and Super 14 franchises. But the All Black No 6 believes that club rugby is a sacred and undervalued institution.
â€œTo all those people who might ask â€˜why play club rugby when I can rest and just play for the big teams?â€™ – the answer is easy: even if I didnâ€™t get paid for it Iâ€™d be out there â€“ I love the game. I love training and having a hit-out with my mates on a Saturday afternoon and then having a beer in the club afterwards,” Collins told allblacks.com.
â€œI suppose that will be my life when I finish playing professional rugby â€“ go to work, go to training, go home. I want to play for Norths forever.â€
Collins represented Northern United (Norths) in their 25-12 victory over Poneke in Wellingtonâ€™s Jubilee Cup final. It was the third game he had played in 14 days, two of those games being Test matches. Obviously the intensity and pace of the game wasn’t that of the Test arena, but club rugby does have its own unique advantages.
â€œIf I rate the intensity of a Test at 10, then club rugby for me is about five or six, but the â€˜feel-goodâ€™ factor is a 10-out-of-10 for me.”
Collins confirmed that even although club rugby is far below international standard, it also presents its own challenges.
â€œPeople donâ€™t realise that you can sometimes have 15 guys from the other team going after you.
â€œAlthough the intensity of the situation is different, the key for me is to keep my intensity high. If I drop the ball in club rugby I only get the coach shouting at me â€“ not 50,000 people in the grandstand.”
In South Africa, a lot of our top players are fast tracked from the junior national and provincial levels straight into the Vodacom and Absa Currie Cups without playing club rugby. In New Zealand, the situation is much the same.
â€œClub rugby isnâ€™t the old-school game that it used to be,â€ Collins said. â€œThese days there are plenty of young players trying to push their careers. When I first started playing club rugby, there were plenty of old blokes. This is my eighth year playing for Norths, and now youâ€™d be lucky to find a player over 25.â€
Collins is one of the nineteen All Blacks who arrived in South Africa yesterday. The rest of the Vodacom Tri-Nations-winning squad is due to arrive later today.