Today in History - 1905 All Blacks v Ireland

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James Mortimer     26 Nov 2011     Getty Images

Nineteen matches against English sides saw the All Blacks go undefeated, with the local media not believing the first tour score – 55-4 against Devon (now the Exeter Chiefs) – that they initially credited the result as a win for the South Western English team.

English county champions Durham were also defeated, and after stunning England’s rugby fraternity, they headed to Scotland where they would play their ‘tightest’ win, beating a powerful Thistles side 12-7, and a West of Scotland team 22-0.

The legend of the Originals was already growing, making a mockery of Great Britain’s captain David Bedell-Sivright’s predictions (who had lost three of five matches during a tour of New Zealand in 1904) that the soon to be tourists would struggle to beat any of the Home Nations in their own backyard.

Ireland prepared to face the touring New Zealand team at Lansdowne Road amidst such hype that the Irish Rugby Football Union actually made the match the first all-ticket rugby international in history.

While Wales were reining Home Nations champions that year (France’s inclusion made it the Five Nations in 1910), the Irish were a powerful rugby nation.

They had won the Home Nations in 1896 and 1899, the latter with a triple crown.

The famous 1896 British Isles squad - who would later become the British and Irish Lions - that travelled to South Africa and thumped the hosts 3-1 while winning 17 tour matches, contained no less than nine Irishmen (Thomas Crean, Robert Johnston, Louis Magee, James Magee, Larry Bulger, Jim Sealy, Andrew Clinch, Arthur Meares and Cecil Boyd).

And while it may contain little rugby relevance, rugby in Ireland at the time was a sport for Protestants, not Catholics, and only a handful of those who didn’t believe in the Sola fide played for the Irish teams around the turn of the 20th century.

The Irish had finished second to Wales in the 1905 Home Nations, and popular captain Ellie Allen waited for these Originals whose reputation seemed to become more inflated by local media by the day.

Superior New Zealand tactics and fitness were heralded by the British press, but it was the never before seen formations that were giving the Originals “unfair success with unique tactics not penalised by poor refereeing” as one famous English report once suggested.

Chief amongst these was New Zealand using specific positions in the scrum, while the Home Nations teams were still using a ‘first up, first down’ doctrine, while the then controversial use of the wing forward (the modern day flanker) was seen as one of the hallmarks of the first All Blacks teams.

Ireland, of all the Home Nations, was the best equipped international side to combat these ‘new world’ approaches.

Unlike the Scottish, who were unhappy with all the attention this touring team was garnering, the Irish warmly welcomed the Originals, taking the entire squad out for breakfast the morning they arrived in Belfast.

The fact that All Blacks tour party captain Dave Gallaher was born in County Donegal (he moved to New Zealand at age four) further endeared the New Zealanders to the Irish.

Thousands greeted the Originals when they arrived at Dublin, and Lansdowne Road was sold out, with 12,000 excited locals turning up to see this exciting team from the other side of the world.

Invercargill born Billy Stead would captain the side in the absence of the injured Gallaher.

While the Originals were playing a brand of rugby that was epitomised by their forwards playing as if they were backs, Ireland played an uncompromising style based around brutal play in the tight and gritty defence.

Centre Bob Deans would score the first of his two tries towards the end of the first half to give the Originals a 5-0 lead, thanks to William ‘Carbine’ Wallace’s conversion (those days it was three points for a try, and two for a conversion).

This came despite the Irish dominating the opening stanza.

Deans scored another early in the second half, before big Alexander McDonald scored the Originals third to give them a 15-0 victory.

The All Blacks then headed to Limerick to play Munster, beating the Irish province 33-0, before heading to Crystal Palace to play England and continue a tour which would lay the first foundations for the team we know today.