Peter Jackson gets over the gain line, behind the headline
With a father from Derry and a mother from Limerick, John Gallagher can reasonably claim to be the solitary Irish winner of the World Cup.
He could also lay claim, if he felt so inclined, to an unprecedented double: A New Zealand untouchable at the start of his Test career and the only All Black to play for Ireland’s second string at the end of it.
In this week of all weeks, a foot in both camps, albeit more in one than the other, allows him to take a unique perspective of Saturday’s collision between the best teams in the world — rugby’s version of the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier rumble in the jungle.
“Isn’t it fantastic?” says Gallagher, eyes lighting up at the prospect as we spoke yesterday in his native London.
“It’s taken Ireland a long time to get to where they are at No. 2 in the world but what a time to get there with a World Cup round the corner.
“I don’t think monopolies are good in any walk of life. You look at the level of competition at the very top of the game, and it’s really healthy.
“I saw Ireland win the Grand Slam at Twickenham last season. All right, England weren’t great but they still take some beating at home. And they played really well last Saturday.”
For the benefit of those who are too young to forget and a few maybe too old to remember, Gallagher’s remains the rugby fairytale, of how a policeman’s son in Lewisham went from the streets of south London to the inner sanctum of the All Blacks as a member of probably the greatest team of the amateur era.
When it comes to picking a winner from Saturday’s mighty collision, he doesn’t beat about the bush.
“I’ll go for New Zealand,” he says without any ifs or buts.
“Ireland are missing a key player in Conor Murray. He’s a big loss. That’s one of the reasons why New Zealand will edge it.”
After two idyllic years as the best attacking full-back in the game under Wayne Shelford’s supreme command, Gallagher cashed in his chips and joined Leeds, only for his career in Rugby League to be marred by injury.
Now 54 and employed by a property company, his emotional tie is decidedly more black than green.
“Three of my four grandparents were born in Ireland,” he says.
“But I played 41 times for the All Blacks and one time for Ireland. I feel more All Black. They gave me everything as far as rugby’s concerned.
“Whenever I go back to New Zealand, they always make me welcome. They always make me feel I am part of the fabric.
“I’m pretty relaxed about Saturday. I can’t be there but I’ll be watching it. I hope the weather doesn’t spoil the prospect of a great match. I’ll be happy if New Zealand win but I’ll be pleased if Ireland win.”
When he resurfaced half a world away in Wellington as an All Black, Gallagher had played just the one game of senior rugby in England. The relatively untold story of how it came about revolves around the St Patrick’s Day weekend celebrations of 1983 when the teenager made the trip as an Ireland fan.
“We caught the ferry from Holyhead,” he says.
“We were going to see the big match followed by a London Irish U19 fixture on the Sunday morning and then the first-team were playing Clontarf.
“I was playing for the U19s when Tommy Hennessey, the Munster prop who later ran the Irish Exiles, called out: ‘Take it easy, John. One of the boys has got lost somewhere in Leeson Street and you’ll have to play full back for the firsts.’
“And that was how my one and only game for London Irish came about...”
He made it back to Dublin 13 years later during the first season of professionalism which meant the lifting of a life ban imposed for playing League. Before the eligibility rules were clarified, Gallagher appeared at Donnybrook in the centre for Ireland’s annual A match against England.
“At the end, the coach said: ‘John that was great. Are you available for the Five Nations?’
“I told him I was and that was the last I ever heard of it...”
The vexed subject of swearing allegiance to one country rather than another rears its ugly head again over Gary Graham’s belated decision to throw in his lot with Scotland after trying to do so with England.
His is a case of not one defection but two.
Graham — born in Stirling but raised south of the border after his dad, former Scotland prop George Graham, joined Newcastle — began the year in England’s Six Nations squad. He was perfectly entitled to do so on residency despite having appeared for Scotland at U20 level.
That raised the prospect of Graham being in the back row for England at Murrayfield.
He didn’t make the cut for Murrayfield in the England back row against Scotland and had been considered for Scotland against the Springboks on Saturday before they decided to keep him in reserve.. “I’m Scottish through and through,” says George. His new teammates may take some convincing about that. Being Scottish ‘through and through’ eliminates any kind of consorting with the Auld Enemy, never mind joining their ranks.
Each international weekend provides further evidence that rugby is in danger of bringing itself into disrepute. If the confusion has reached a level that the refereeing fraternity disagree amongst themselves, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Eddie Jones says he will boycott future meetings on the laws of the game claiming they are ‘a waste of time.’ Jones shoots from the mouth so often, not everything he says is taken seriously but his lament will strike a chord with counterparts elsewhere.
“You win some, you lose some and get on with it,” says Jones. “But there’s something wrong somewhere.”
It could be argued TMO Marius Jonker’s overruling of the Sam Underhill try awarded by French ref Jerome Garces, flew in the face of a World Rugby directive: “Try-scoring should be an on-field decision with the referee being responsible but the team of four can all contribute.”
The disallowing of Underhill’s score was clearly an off-field decision, urged by the man in the van, not the man in the middle. Another directive requires TMOs to “use the criteria that the infringement must be clear and obvious”.
What became clear and obvious to Jonker required painstaking examination of the videotape. The integrity of those involved is beyond question and the South African official would have been failing in his duty had his examination been less than thorough. Rather, it raises a question about the wooliness of World Rugby’s directive “clear and obvious”. Because it was neither clear nor obvious in the case of Courtney Lawes did not mean he was onside for the chargedown that sent Underhill over in the corner.
A more blatant case of inconsistency arises over Wallaby centre Samu Kerevi being brought to book for a late tackle that flattened Wales full back Leigh Halfpenny. It was so obviously late and dangerous, the decision not to cite Kerevi seems as baffling as New Zealand ref Ben O’Keefe’s ruling the blow was “not intentional.”
Intention, as the law states, is irrelevant.
Kerevi got off scot-free. Others have been banned for five weeks for theirs.
Those searching a historic clue in support of a home win on Saturday will find it in Kieran Marmion’s Welsh education at Christ College in the market town of Brecon.
Christ College alumni include one Teddy Morgan, famous in Welsh folklore for scoring the try that beat New Zealand in 1905, one month after the pioneering Kiwis won in Dublin under the captaincy of Dave Gallaher from Ramelton, Co. Donegal.