Jerry Collins v Schalk Burger

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Jerry Collins and Schalk Burger were respective enforcers of the All Blacks and Springboks. Between 2003 and 2007 they tried to break each other physically but became firm friends in the process.

Jerry Collins of the All Blacks runs at the Springbok defence during the 2006 Tri Nations test match between South Africa and New Zealand at Royal Bafokeng Stadium September 2, 2006 in Rustenburg, South Africa. (Photo by Ross Land/Getty Images)

Schalk Burger was an immoveable object. Jerry Collins was an irresistible force. When the two played against each other, the results were entirely predictable.

Both men were almost laconic off the field – capable of enjoying life to the full. They weren't serious or intense. But once they put on their respective No 6 jerseys...stand back and get out of the way.

Collins loved conflict and collisions. He was exclusively about the confrontation. He was built for it – standing at 1.92m and weighing 110kg. He also pumped through enough work in the gym to give himself biceps that were 56cm in diameter.

Burger was naturally bigger. He was 1.94m and 114kg. He'd never actually need a shovel as his hands would be just as effective. And as for his head, it was bigger than most toddlers. He was a beast and he had the mindset that he was going to use his size and aggression to hurt opponents.

It was classic territory – an All Black enforcer determined to impose himself against an equally driven Springboks enforcer.

The two first clashed at the World Cup in 2003 but, with Burger only coming off the bench later in the game, they didn't get much of a chance to take lumps out of each other.

The following year they were able to get stuck into each other properly in Christchurch. They landed a couple of heavy hits each, but that just served as the entrée.

When they met in Cape Town the following year, things went to a different scale. They played their own game – almost oblivious to those around them and what was actually happening in the test.

Schalk Burger of South Africa eyes up Owen Franks of New Zealand during the Tri Nations Test between the New Zealand All Blacks and South African Springboks at Waikato Stadium on September 12, 2009 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

They were out for each other – looking to inflict maximum damage. It made for the most compelling individual battle of the professional age. In the space of five minutes Collins hit Burger twice – full-on, square shoulders around the chest and buried him into the turf. It was bone-jarring stuff and yet on both occasions, Burger smiled, stood up and gave as good as he got.

In the second half he tackled Collins with as much force as he'd been hit in the first and it was crash, bang wallop on a scale rarely seen.

As Burger recalled of that test in 2005: “Yes, I remember it big time ... there were a couple of big hits going both ways; I think Jerry had a few on me that day. But that was what it was like playing Jerry; there was just no backing down.

“If you were the type of [opponent] to back down I think he would have lost respect for you. He wanted you to show your respect by taking him head-on. Jerry won most of those collisions throughout his career. He was a tough player but also an honest and true man.

“A couple of hard men come on the scene and make their presence felt for a little while, but Jerry was one of those who stood the test of time. If you were carrying the ball you always felt he was hunting you down, that he was coming.”

What made this rivalry particularly special was the mutual respect for each other. After Burger and Collins smashed the living daylights out of each other, they would, whenever they could, share a beer and laugh about the destruction they had caused.

It was an old school relationship that had everything to do with the depth of character and humanity of both men. That depth of respect and fondness was apparent when Collins was tragically killed in a car crash in 2015.

Burger, who was in the midst of a supremely impressive campaign for the Stormers at the time, went out of his way to pay his respects to his old friend and foe.

“I was deeply saddened ... we’ve lost one of our true warriors of the game.

“I knew Jerry very well; played a lot of rugby against him and also had the pleasure to play for the Barbarians with him. There are nothing but good memories: on the rugby field obviously he was hard as nails. But he would also be the first bloke to come up and have a beer with you, exchange a shirt ... wonderful man, and a real rugby man, so he will be missed.

“There were similarities in our playing philosophies, absolutely. It was helped, of course, by there being such a big natural rivalry between the Springboks and All Blacks. Then you added Jerry Collins onto that – he was the one guy who always set the physical tone for them.

“So that was my job, back in the day – try to keep Jerry quiet, or try to intimidate him if you could. Look, this was a bloke who never backed down: he was one of those players who would grab a ball 50 yards back, look you in the face and basically say as he [advanced] ‘OK, let’s see who is the bravest here’. He was a hard, hard man.”

The Vault
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The Vault

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