David Gallaher’s name isn’t familiar to many Irish rugby fans, but his contributions to the sport carry beyond the shores of Ireland and New Zealand and continue to impact the sport’s today.
Here are ten things you probably didn’t know about the Irish man who fearlessly led New Zealand’s All Blacks on and off the field in the early 1900’s.
He was 5 when he left Ramelton, Co. Donegal with his parents and nine siblings. All of their names changed along with their home. He began as Gallagher, but New Zealand immigration officials in Auckland misspelled his name as “Gallaher”.
He was one of the original All Blacks – the first New Zealand national rugby team to tour outside of Australasia. His fury and passion on the field arguably cast the die for what would define All Blacks players for the next century and beyond. He led his team in their first matches beyond New Zealand and Australia against Britain, France and North America. The result was unprecedented; 976 points scored, conceding only 59 points total in 35 matches, winning 34 out of 35 matches.
The Telegraph called him “the most controversial sportsman of his time,” and for good reason. Here’s how the Auckland Star wrote about him in his 1917 obituary:
"Standing six feet in height, thirteen 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. They only saw Gallaher descending like fury on the British halves, bumping them and robbing them, and opening up the lightning passing bout that ended in big scores for the black-garbed stranger team. The critics cried out the loud protest, the crowds roared with indignation and the air of the playing fields rang with thunderous complaints of unfair play in which the name of Gallaher was shouted continuously."
Most credit the “Originals” team that Gallaher captained during 1905–06 with cementing rugby as New Zealand's national sport.
Along with set plays, dummy passes and breaking through the scrum, Gallaher used techniques that were innovative for the time to employ a type of strategy and tact that were previously undiscovered in the game. The new role he created for himself, now known as the flanker, led the British press to call him the “Rover”.
While on tour in North America and the British Isles, Gallaher’s team performed the now-famous haka. It is believed this was the first time it was performed on the global stage. Here’s what it looks like today:
Known widely around the world, the haka aligns with the wider Polynesian cultures of the Pacific. The intensity and passion of the performance by the team is underpinned by the rich history of the All Blacks.
Gallaher co-wrote a book called The Complete Rugby Footballer that outlines several of Gallaher’s theories and ideas from his career on the field.
A walloping 300 pages, it’s now considered to be a master class in rugby. In fact, it was even used in 2011 by Sir Graham Henry , who coached the All Blacks to victory in the World Cup that year.
In 1922, the Gallaher Shield became the trophy for Auckland club competitions and since 2000, the Dave Gallaher Cup is awarded to the winner of a rugby test match or series between New Zealand and France.
Standing outside Eden Park Stadium in Auckland is a bronze statue of Dave Gallaher. This imposing statue is fitting testament to the esteem in which Dave Gallaher is held.
In order to volunteer and enlist in New Zealand’s ranks for World War 1, he claimed to be 41 years old. This wasn’t the first time his memory was hazy about the year he was born—he also lied about his age in 1901 to enlist in the Boer War. He claimed to be 25; he was really 28. Regardless of age, he rose each time he enlisted as a leader amongst those who served with him.
Following his brother Douglas’ death at war, Gallaher enlisted in July 1916 to fight in Europe. He died the following year in the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium. However, his name lives on. He has since been inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame, International Rugby Hall of Fame, and the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame. His gravesite resides in Belgium. New Zealand players still visit his grave to this day to pay tribute.
The skill, discipline and determination of David Gallaher and the All Blacks who succeeded him is just one reason AIG is a proud sponsor of the All Blacks. Learn more about our [dedication to the sport of rugby] and what makes the All Blacks a perfect partner for AIG.