Dave Gallaher was captain of the 1905 ‘Originals’ rugby team, the first to be known as the All Blacks. The Irish-born Gallaher played only six tests for New Zealand yet is regarded as an All Black legend. His death while fighting overseas during the First World War ensured that he acquired a mystique that transcended sport.
Gallaher had seen active service before when he lied about his age (putting it back by three years) in 1901 to serve in the South African War. He rose to the rank of squadron sergeant major.
He played for Ponsonby and Auckland before making his international debut against Australia at Sydney in 1903. The following year he was in the team that defeated the British Isles 9-3 in Wellington. He was appointed as captain for the 1905-06 tour of Britain and France. Some opposed his appointment as they felt that he was too old for the job. On board the ship to Britain he instigated a tough training regime which some found excessive. A team vote was taken while on route to Britain and 11 of his 29 fellow team mates voted against him. Once the team arrived he quickly asserted himself as an inspirational captain and player.
New Zealand rugby had developed its own particular style. A two-three-two scrum had been adopted with one forward, the wing forward, detached. Gallaher made this position his. He was big for a forward of that era (1.83m tall and 84kg) and perfected the art of quickly switching defence to attack.
The use of the wing forward and in particular Gallaher’s command of the position attracted a fair degree of criticism from the British media (what’s changed?). Some in the English press described him ‘as a wolf in sheep's clothing' and one commentator warned that 'there is going to be trouble over that gentleman'. In the end the team suffered only one defeat in 33 games in Europe (the famous disputed match against Wales).
These were amateur days and Gallaher returned to his job at the Auckland Freezing Works. In October 1906 he married Ellen Ivy May Francis, the sister of fellow All Black, Arthur ‘Bolla’ Francis.
Gallaher enlisted for service in the First World War after a younger brother was killed in action. He was shot in the face during the attack on Gravenstafel Spur, Belgium on 4 October 1917 and died later that day. His grave at Nine Elms cemetery gives his age as 41- he was in fact almost 44. It has become a shrine to many Kiwi tourists and All Black teams alike.
His memory lives on in the form of the Gallaher Shield, the symbol of club supremacy in Auckland since 1922 and The Dave Gallaher trophy has been played for in rugby series between New Zealand and France since 2000. In 2005 the Irish club, Letterkenny near Gallaher’s birthplace in Ramelton, County Donegal, named its ground ‘Dave Gallaher Memorial Park’ cementing his place in the hearts of rugby fans worldwide.
- Find out more: David Gallaher biography in Te Ara Biographies