John Gallagher - The Anglo All Black

On the 22nd May 1987, an English fullback walked out onto the pitch of Eden Park in Auckland for the first match of the inaugural Rugby World Cup. His kit was all black. John Gallagher would go on to win the tournament with New Zealand, etching himself into the list of All Black greats and beginning a journey that would see him crowned 'International Player of the Year' in 1990. He never lost a match wearing that jersey.

Now a head teacher in Southeast London, the man once known as Kipper is remembered as one of the finest players of his generation, and will doubtless be watching with fond memories as the Rugby World Cup returns to New Zealand this year for the first time since its inception. We recently caught up with him to talk about the 1987 World Cup and his reflections on New Zealand

What are your memories of playing in the 1987 World Cup?

I have many happy memories. My All Blacks Test debut in the inaugural match of the RWC, a game which we won 70-6, was obviously special, as were the four tries I scored against Fiji a few days later, which set a Test match record. The quarter-final against Scotland was significant for me, as my father had just flown in from London and was there to see me score a try from the stands. Otherwise, beating France in the RWC final and being crowned world champions was, of course, pretty memorable!

Who was the best player you played with, and against?

There are quite a few contenders, but it was always good to be in the same team as John Kirwan and Buck Shelford. In opposition, Serge Blanco of France was always a special challenge, together with David Campese of Australia.

What is your fondest memory from your playing career?

I am fortunate enough to have many fond memories; making my All Blacks debut on my mother's birthday in October 1986 against a French Selection in Strasbourg; winning the first RWC in 1987; being undefeated in my All Blacks career from 1986-89; being awarded NZ Player of the Year in 1989 and IRB International Player of the Year in 1990.

My favourite try was against Ireland in 1989 in Dublin, it was special because both my parents were watching as well as all my Irish cousins.

Did you have to learn the Haka when you joined the All Blacks? Can you still do it now?

Yes - after the team was named for the Strasbourg match, Buck Shelford (Haka leader) took me to one side and asked me if I had performed the Haka before. I confessed that I hadn't and so he then gave me a crash course in its history and meaning, together with the words and actions.

After about half an hour I wasn't exactly well prepared, and he then said "just stand behind me and do what I do." I still get a number of requests from the pupils in my school; I tend to teach them rather than doing it myself.

What did the All Blacks do in between matches at the 1987 Rugby World Cup?

Most memorably, a burger eating competition in a well-known fast-food chain just outside Napier on the North Island. I was the surprise winner, destroying the reputations of Zinzan Brooke, Andy Earl, and Michael Jones in the process.

We were also billeted with families in the Wairarapa; our Coach, Brian Lochore, was from that area and he got all of his farmer mates to put us up for a few days. It was complete escapism for me (completely different to Southeast London), but it also gave all the players a real insight into what the All Blacks meant to the rural communities of NZ.

What five words would you use to sum New Zealand up?

Friendly, beautiful, peaceful, fresh and creative.

What's your favourite thing about New Zealand; what do you miss most?

The fresh air.

Where is your favourite place in New Zealand?

Wellington - when the wind isn't blowing!

Rugby has changed drastically since 1987; how is it different now?

In 1987, the game was amateur and the All Blacks were definitely an unknown quantity. They had lost their hold on the Bledisloe Cup as well as being well beaten by France in Nantes in '86. The team had also been split by the rebel tour to South Africa, which also divided public opinion. What's more, the average age of the team was 24.

Now the game is professional. South Africa and Australia are frequent visitors to New Zealand and know how to win there. Events such as the Autumn Test schedule in the Northern Hemisphere means there is a wealth of knowledge about all of the leading squads.

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