IRB Hall of Fame – Induction No.27 – David Gallaher (1873-1917) – Ponsonby, Auckland and New Zealand

Personal details

– Born: 13 October 1873 in Ramelton, County Donegal, Ireland.
– Died: 4 October 1917 in a field hospital in Flanders as a result of wounds sustained in battle in the First World War. He is buried at the Nine Elms Cemetery in Poperinge.
– Family: The sixth of 13 children of James Gallaher, a shop-keeper, and Maria McCloskie, a teacher. He was one of the nine children born in Ireland, while the other four younger siblings were born in New Zealand. The family emigrated to New Zealand in 1878 and settled in Katikati in the Tauranga District, as part of scheme in the Bay of Plenty to settle a large contingent of Ulster immigrants. He married Ellen Ivy ‘Nellie’ Francis, the sister of a fellow All Black Arthur RH Francis, in 1906 and they had a daughter Nora in 1908. In 1901 he served in the Boer War, which he ended as a Sergeant-Major, with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles. Five of the nine Gallaher brothers served in the First World War and although he could have avoided military service as he was over 40, he decided to enlist after the death in action of his baby brother Douglas Wallace. Sergeant Dave Gallaher (32513) was severely wounded by shrapnel at Passchendaele and died a few hours later in an Australian field hospital, while another of his younger brothers Henry Fletcher was also killed in action a few months later and a fourth brother was severely wounded.
– Education: Katikati School, Bay of Plenty, where his mother was a teacher.
– Profession: Foreman for the Auckland’s Farmers Freezing Society.

Honours and awards

– Imperial South African War Medal with clasps for Transvaal, Orange Free State and Cape Colony
– South African Medal 1901-02
– British War Medal
– Victory Medal
– The new grounds of the Ketterkenny RFC in County Donegal, not far from Gallaher’s birthplace, have been named Dave Gallaher Memorial Park.
– Auckland Rugby Football Union launched the Gallaher Shield club competition to preserve his memory in 1922.
– The Auckland RFU commissioned a statue of him that adorns one of the entrances to Eden Park.

Rugby career

– He began playing at Katikati (on Lockington’s paddock by the Uratara River)and in 1890 at the age of 17 he joined the juniors of the now defunct Parnell club in Auckland, after the family moved from KatiKati, three years after his mother’s death.
– In 1896, at the age of 23, he joined the Ponsonby Club where he soon established himself as a player of note.
– He made his Auckland debut against the touring Queensland team on 8 August 1896 and went on to play against Wellington, Taranaki and Otago, the latter in the final match of the season.
– In 1897, he played for the Auckland team that defeated New Zealand 11-10, which must have made an impression on the selectors. He also played for the all-conquering Auckland provincial team in all three internal tour matches against Taranaki, Wellington and Wanganui.
– He played for the Ponsonby club team, the winners of the Auckland club competition in 1897. Auckland remained unbeaten for six seasons between 1897 and 1902, although Gallaher missed two seasons (1901-1902) due to his military commitments in the Boer War.
– He also missed the 1898 season and re-emerged in 1899 when he played hooker in two of the three matches. In 1900, Gallaher retained his position in all four matches of the first season of the new century.
– After a two-year absence, he re-emerged in the Auckland team in the first match of the 1903 internal tour against Taranaki in New Plymouth. He missed the matches against Wellington and Hawke’s Bay at the end of the tour, but played against Southland, Otago, South Canterbury and Canterbury.
– He was duly selected for the 1903 New Zealand tour of Australia, where after a few matches he changed from hooker* to wing forward (* this was the New Zealand 2-3-2 scrum formation).
– After the 1904 Ranfurly Shield match he was selected, this time directly at wing forward for the Test against the visiting Lions (British Team) of David Bedell-Sivright in Wellington, which New Zealand won. The match was described by TP McLean as the most important Test in the history of New Zealand rugby.
– A week later he played again against the tourists, this time for Auckland and scored one of the tries in their 13-0 defeat of the British, only their second defeat of the whole tour.
– Overall he represented Auckland in 26 matches over a 13-year period (1896-1909). Though he had nominally retired in 1906 at the end of the tour to the British Isles, France and America he did play one more game for Auckland in 1909, when the team, beset by injury, was short of players.
– He missed the New Zealand Test against Australia in 1905, but his contribution in the 26-0 North Island win over the South Island in the pre-tour trial – when he was described by the New Zealand Herald as the best player on the field – must have convinced the New Zealand selectors to appoint him captain for the first official New Zealand tour of the British Isles, France and United States, the so called ‘Originals’.
– During the passage by boat (the name of the liner was Rimutaka) from New Zealand to Europe, his captaincy was challenged on account of his age and he resigned and had his name put forward for re-election. He was duly re-elected with 17 votes for and 12 against.
– He played six Tests for New Zealand, winning five and losing one, the controversial 3-0 defeat by Wales.
– In total he played 36 games for New Zealand, during which he established himself not only as a great player but also as a formidable leader of men, respected by friends and foes alike.

Test summary

15/08/1903 v Australia (Forward) – Won 22-3
13/08/1904 v British Isles (Forward) – Won 9-3
18/11/1905 v Scotland (Forward) – Won 12-7
02/12/1905 v England (Forward) – Won 15-0
16/12/1905 v Wales (Forward) – Lost 3-0
01/01/1906 v France (Forward) – Won 38-8

Career highlights

– During his military service in South Africa he captained the New Zealand military team that won the rugby Army championship, playing in all 10 matches.
– He was initially selected as a hooker for the 1903 tour to Australia, but by the time of the Test on 15 August he had been shifted to wing forward, a position he made his own. This match is regarded as New Zealand’s first ever Test and the team have been variously described as “the greatest New Zealand team ever”.
– In 1904 he appeared in the maiden game of the newly launched Ranfurly Shield Challenge, with the visiting Wellington defeating the holders Auckland. (The Ranfurly Shield (the log) was presented by the New Zealand Governor General Lord Ranfurly to the New Zealand Rugby Union as a challenge trophy to the best team in the country. It was presented in 1902 to the then undefeated Auckland and this was the first defence of the trophy.
– The second Test of his playing career was against the 1904 British team of ‘Darkie’ Bedell-Sivright.
He played in four of the five Tests of the 1905 tour – missing the Irish Test – including the epic 3-0 loss to Wales , the only defeat of his, brief international career.
– Gallaher’s final Test, against France in Paris on New Year’s Day 1906 which New Zealand won 38-8, is the official first Test of the French. The Gallaher Cup, offered by the NZRU, rewards the winner of the match between the two countries.

Coaching and administrative career

– He retired after the 1905-06 tour and became the Auckland Selector, a position he held for 10 years between 1906 and 1916.
– Once retired he concentrated on coaching age grade rugby in Ponsonby.
– In 1907 he was appointed the New Zealand selector, a position he held until 1914. New Zealand played 16 Tests during his time as a selector, winning 13, drawing two and losing one.
– He was not only an outstanding player, captain and selector, but also a great rugby thinker – having written in association with his vice captain Billy Stead one of the earliest and most admired coaching manuals of all time The Complete Rugby Footballer.

What he said

“Perhaps, next to our striking series of successes – which were due, to put it briefly, to our superior condition, speed and combination – perhaps the most remarkable thing about our tour was the criticism levelled at our scrum methods and formation, and the much discussed and unfortunate wing forward. The outcry against the wing forward assumed a very bitter tone in South Wales. People everywhere naturally criticised his methods, as he was an innovation, and he was accused of wilful obstruction. But on our arrival in South Wales it seemed as if the pent up indignation of the whole race for years had been let loose on us, and on me particularly. The Welshmen have got a fixed idea in their minds that the wing forward must be offside directly he made a move, no matter where the ball was.”
“As to the much abused wing forward, a great deal of misapprehension exists and has been fomented about him. If we had called him a half back we should have heard nothing about him, of that I am sure. But people imagined because he was new to them, that a wing forward was a terrible person, with a double dose of original football sin. And what amused me throughout this phase of bother was that nearly all our opponents themselves played wing forwards, only they called them halves, they had one half who put the ball in and took it if it came out his side, and another half on the other side who did ditto if it came out there. That is practically playing two wings. But they were above suspicion, apparently, because they were called halves.”

“The controversy about the wing forward became complicated in South Wales by the introduction – mainly the work of ill-informed and irresponsible journalists, I will admit – of all the nonsense of me putting ‘bias’ on the ball, when putting it into the scrum. The suggestion is ridiculous in the extreme.  I am sure I could not do it – I have never tried, to tell the truth. Even if you put the ball in unfairly in the way suggested, there is nothing gained by it. The referee will simply blow his whistle, and give a free kick against you.”

“No referee could accuse me throughout the tour of putting the ball in unfairly or of putting ‘bias’ on it. I would be quite content to accept the verdict on such referees as Mr. Gil Evans or Mr. Percy Coles on the point. There were times when the scrum work was done so neatly that as soon as the ball had left my hands the forwards shoved over the top of it, and it was heeled out, and Roberts was off with it before you could say ‘knife’. It was all over so quickly that almost everyone – the referee sometimes included – thought there was something unfair about it, some ‘trickery’ and that the ball had not only been put in but passed out unfairly. People here have been accustomed when the ball was put into the scrum to see it wobbling about and frequently never coming out in a proper way. How can a man possibly put ‘bias’ on a ball if he rolls it into the scrum? The only way to put my screw on a ball would be, I would say, to throw it straight down, shoulder high, on to its end, so that it may possibly bounce in the desired direction. I have never done that – in fact, it can’t be done in the scrum and if I had ever attempted it I should have expected to be penalised immediately.”

What they said about him

His obituary in the Auckland Star:  “The more or less bald recital of Davie Gallaher’s career does not adequately convey the extraordinary impression that he made on the sporting public of Great Britain when the All Blacks stole into the Home Country and commenced to devastate the playing reputation of the best of the English county and their teams. Dave was skipper and wing forward in the all-conquering combination and a wing forward was a new feature of the game to Britishers. He was a big, strong, dashing, agile man who was out with all his power to spoil the opposing half back, to disorganise the defence and attack, and to open up play for his own men behind him. Standing six feet in height, 13 stone in weight, hard as nails, fast and full of dash, he bolted from the mark every time, played right up to the whistle and stopped for nothing big or small. The Britishers stood aghast at this style of play.”
Sir Terry McLean (legendary New Zealand rugby writer): “Gallaher, the footballer, was now, it can be surmised, well on his way to greatness – and to mortification. The year 1904 was a climactic importance, firstly to New Zealand rugby and secondly to individuals of the stamp of Gallaher, Wallace and other stars of ’05. The first British team since AE Stoddard’s side in 1888 (when the game as such was developing slowly from its tadpole chrysalis to the fully grown frog) toured Down Under and, at Wellington, took on New Zealand’s strength ... The victory by 9-3 stirred the nation. It represented the birth of rugby as the great national game. The country was convulsed with pride and excitement.”

His obituary in the Athletic News: “Dave Gallaher was one of the brave men of New Zealand. As a wing forward he was frequently foully abused on the field of play … He took his gruelling philosophically, but the attention bestowed upon him and our players ignorance of real scrummage working surprised him, all the same ... And he was such a fine captain. He said very little, but a look from him spoke volumes, if the phrase be not paradox. He was a dour chap who suggested the serious Scot rather than the volatile Irishman, but with those who knew him he was immensely popular.”

Ernest E ‘General’ Booth (teammate): “Dave was a man of sterling worth, slow to promise, but always sure to fulfil. Girded by great determination and self control, he was a valuable friend, and could be, I think a remorseless foe. He would reason everything out his own way, even if it took him two pipe fills of tobacco – and he loved his pipe. Thus he was a great theorist in other matters as well as football, and his opinion was always worth having. Never thrusting himself forward, he always liked to ‘get the strength of the other chaps first.’ As an opponent t in play he was simply merciless, wanted everything and all; but I honestly think he never meant to be anything but legitimate and fair. To us All Blacks his words would often be, ‘Give nothing away; take no chance.’ As a skipper he was somewhat a disciplinarian, doubtless imbibed from his previous military experience in South Africa. Still, he treated us all like men, not kids, who were out to ‘play the game’ for good old New Zealand.”

His obituary in the Auckland Star: “His tact, consideration and clean sporting instincts were his outstanding characteristics generally.  As a player he was one of the finest of many fine forwards that have won recognition in the representative playing ranks of New Zealand. A hard, dashing forward he ever was and he was a clean player, from whom no opponent ever feared a mean advantage, so that even among the ranks of the beaten, as among the victors, he always left friends behind him. Small wonder that the death of a player who achieved such a glorious record on his merits is universally regretted in New Zealand today.”