Southland-born Lynn McConnell is a sportswriter/historian with 40 years experience in journalism having been sports editor of The Evening Post and The Southland Times. Lynn has written several books including 'Behind the Silver Fern: Playing Rugby for New Zealand' together with Tony Johnson.Read more exclusive columns
Dave Gallaher’s legacy lives on 100 years later
allblacks.com 04 Oct 2017
Taken from the field of battle, he died at an Australian field clearing station, aged 43. His death, along with all other New Zealanders in the conflict, denied his family his love and care, and his country incalculable future service.
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But unlike many others, Gallaher's influence would be forever cast over New Zealand rugby. There were perpetual memories resulting from the contesting of the Gallaher Shield every year in Auckland senior club rugby. At international level, the Dave Gallaher Trophy has been fiercely contested between the All Blacks and France since 2000.
There were the visits to his graveside, started by the 1924-25 All Blacks, to respect his contribution to the legacy they maintained.
It was another captain and wing forward, Cliff Porter, the leader of the 1924-25 Invincibles who said: "So long as the game of rugby is played, there will be wing-forwards.
"Scrum formations will make no difference, for it matters not whether a 2-3-2, a 3-3-2 or a 3-4-1 scrum is packed, there will always be wing-forwards. Perhaps his name may be changed or his duties lightened, but that is all," he said.
The Richie McCaws, Sam Canes, Ardie Saveas, Josh Kronfelds, Michael Jones, Jock Hobbs, Graham Mouries, Kevin Eveleighs, Ken Stewarts, Kel Tremains, Graham Williams, John Grahams et al, are the products of the Dave Gallaher legacy.
He served with the Sixth New Zealand Mounted Rifles in South Africa where he was a scout, something of a military equivalent to his wing forward position on the rugby field. When his unit finished their tour of duty he remained in South Africa as a sergeant-major with the 10th Contingent.
After a prospective team revolt to his captaincy en route to Britain was settled, he emerged to lead a team that revolutionised the game and rocked Britain and Ireland with its methods.
It is interesting to compare what he said at that time with what some may perceive as differences between northern hemisphere sides and the All Blacks in this day and age.
"It never seems to dawn on him that he is able to take a back's place either for attacking or defensive purposes during any stage of a game, and he thereby loses many a fine opportunity of scoring, for the simple reason that it has been ground into him that he is a forward and not expected to score," he said.
"The wing-forward was another innovation of our style that caused a wide diversity of opinion among British football scribes, and many and varied were the hard names and even insults, our wing-forward was subjected to by certain sections of the press throughout Great Britain. Yet all over the British Isles they play not one wing, but two, in the majority of cases, as their halves are wings pure and simple," he said.
Gallaher felt if the All Blacks had called their wing-forward a half-back, it would have prevented much of the controversy. But with the 2-3-2 scrum Gallaher felt it was essential to have a wing-forward because there was no chance the halfback, having fed the ball to the scrum, could get back behind the scrum by the time the ball emerged.
The British formation too often ended up with the wing receiving the ball on the sideline and with little room to manoeuvre whereas the New Zealanders with the five-eighths, who were stationed much closer to the scrum than the British and Irish backs, were better able to 'initiate an offensive movement' while also working in defence to stymie opposition attacks.
"I firmly adhere to the wisdom of our method of play. I may be biased in its favour, it is true, but still I think the result of both this and previous tours have proved to us that we have good reason to put the utmost faith in our own particular style of play," he said.
Team manager George Dixon said during the English section of the tour there was a much better appreciation of Gallaher's methods and it wasn't until the All Blacks reached Wales that the criticism increased.
"I have never known a player to be so violently and unjustly attacked as was Gallaher by the Welsh papers after the International match," Dixon said.
Criticism was also made of Gallaher's method of feeding the scrum with complaints that he so spun the ball that it passed through the scrum to the halfback without being touched. The All Blacks offered the Welsh Union the option of having their halfback feed every scrum but it wasn't taken up.
Against Cardiff, injury resulted in Gallaher going into the scrum. The Welsh half fed the scrum at every feed yet the All Blacks won more possession than Cardiff.
"This happening should have given pause to the most biased of critics, but not one of the Welsh writers even mentioned it in his report of the match," Dixon said.
FOOTNOTE: Gallaher's vice-captain on the tour, and the man who captained the side against Great Britain in 1904, J.W. 'Billy' Stead told the story in later years that it was while working at his bootmaker's shop in Invercargill during the First World War that one day a stone flew through the open door of his establishment, kicked up by a passing horse and dray.
Flying over his shoulder and the stone shattered the glass in the framed photo behind him of the 1905-06 team. The point of impact was Gallaher's face. The date was October 5, NZ time, 1917, 11 hours ahead of France, at the time of Gallaher's death.