Lynn McConnell

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     04 Oct 2017    

His reputation was all the more enduring as the result of his death, at Passchendaele, the victim of a shell blast which resulted in mortal wounds to his face and head on October 4, 1917.

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.


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.

And there was the influence stemming from the position he played, wing-forward, which if the Welsh claim to have a fly-halves factory then New Zealand can surely claim a flankers' factory as the position he mastered evolved.

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.

Gallaher first played for Auckland in 1896 and with two seasons missed while on war service during the Boer War, he only made 26 appearances for the Auckland Union before his retirement at the end of the Originals' tour. He played 36 games for the All Blacks after his Test debut against Australia in 1903, appearing in six Tests.

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.

Returning to New Zealand at the end of 1902, he won a place in the All Blacks side to Australia in 1903 and played in the only Test of the tour. A year later he was back in the All Blacks who played Great Britain in a one-off Test in Wellington – the first on New Zealand soil. A week after the Test match he harassed the British again when they met Auckland who won the encounter 13-0 and in which Gallaher's display was regarded as one of the finest seen to that time.

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.

Gallaher wrote after the 1905-06 tour: "We have not learnt anything new in football from the tour, or seen anything that would tend to make us alter our style of play, either in the pack or behind."

"The average British forward never dreams of picking a ball up and starting a passing rush among his colleagues, or initiating an attack from a lineout, or loose rush. He has got the idea firmly implanted in his mind, that he is in a team only for the sake of scrummaging, line-out work, and following up a drop out now and again.

"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.

Gallaher was also critical of the two halves and four three-quarters system used by the British and Irish sides in comparison to the half, two five-eighths and three three-quarters of the All Blacks.

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.

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.