The Originals - A Captains Role
A century ago - The Original All Blacks
Gallaher was a capable performer, but it was his brilliance as a motivator that is more widely recalled. This was what helped him win the captaincy for the 1905 tour of Britain. It was the first time a national side had played the home nations (they also played in America and France) and it was on this tour that the All Blacks name was first heard. For this reason, Gallaher’s side became known as the Original All Blacks.
In essence, Gallaher strongly believed that forwards should be able to win possession, distribute it speedily and then support play around the field, interlinking with the backs. He was the finest exponent of the position of wing-forward position – dubbed ‘The Rover’ – which was invented in New Zealand. Gallaher finessed the role and brought the massive potential of its influence on the game to the disbelieving attention of the rugby world at large during the 1905 tour. Gallaher’s team was also the first in world rugby to use the hooker to throw the ball into the line-out, to use code-words as signals for moves, to split the line out and throw the ball into the gap, and to use dummy runs.
Most importantly, driven by Gallaher, they pioneered the blanket support of attack by forwards, something it took the best part of a century for the five nations teams to adopt.
The team arrived in good spirit for test matches against all the home nations, including Gallaher’s native Ireland, but the Home Nations – then supposedly the dominant force in the game – gave them no chance of victory against anyone other than the weaker club sides on their schedule.
But the impact of the Originals was to be seismic for the world of rugby. Their aggressive running forwards supported their backline and cut swathes through the teams they met including England and Scotland. The new interlopers won all their British matches, save a narrow 3-0 loss to Wales in which victory was denied by a controversial refereeing decision. Gallaher was injured in that game. Although he trevelled home to Ireland for the tour’s next fixture, he was unable to travel to Landsdowne Road and is reputed to have been kept up to date in his hospital bed by telephone calls from the ground as New Zealand won 15-0 before going on to crush Munster 33-0 at Thomond Park in Limerick, a match that was the famous province's first outiong against international opposition. Many decades later in 1973, again at Thomond Park, Munster would achieve revenge as they became the first, and at time of writing the only Irish team ever to beat the All-Blacks.
The full record for that tour was: played 35, won 34, lost 1; points for 976, against 59. They scored 243 tries, seven per match, and normally cruised to victory with plenty in hand.
It is claimed – and there are a number of other conflicting accounts – that one newspaper report was initially given a headline ‘All Backs’ in reference to the visitor’s radical style of play. A sub-editor mistakenly thought the headline referred to the colour of the New Zealand strip and changed it to ‘All Blacks’, and a legendary name was born.
The achievements of this first touring side of 1905 enthralled the New Zealand public. Gallaher set an example not often followed by modern sportsmen and retired at the very peak of his fame. The exploits of his team had helped establish rugby as the national game of his adopted country and, even to this day, the achievements of the Originals are hailed among the greatest in the history of New Zealand sport.