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He lived most of his life in the far flung East Coast of the North Island but grew to be honoured all over the rugby world.
Wellington and New Zealand
18 internationals for N. Zealand 1987–89
One of the rugby union world's most brilliant attacking fullbacks of the 1980s but who at the peak of his rugby union powers, was lost to rugby league.
John Gallagher was a young fullback living in London who decided to accept an offer of a rugby-playing holiday in Wellington, New Zealand in 1984. By 1986 his life had changed. He had decided to stay in New Zealand, he had embarked on a career with the police force, and late in the year he was included with the New Zealand All Blacks for their tour to France. He was very much a second-stringer on that tour, playing twice at centre.
It was a different matter in 1987. Given the confidence of being chosen as the number one fullback for the first Rugby World Cup, Gallagher’s speed and brilliant intrusions from fullback became a powerful weapon in the All Black armoury.
In his second test match, against Fiji at Christchurch, Gallagher scorched in for four tries (equalling the then New Zealand record for one test match) and helped make many more as the All Blacks raced out to a 74–13 win.
Gallagher played five of the All Blacks’ games at the World Cup, including the final, and was seen as one of the tournament’s most brilliant players. That kind of form followed him through 1988 and 1989, on four other All Black tours.
In May 1990, Gallagher, by then firmly ensconced as one of the country’s most popular sporting heroes, suddenly announced that he was heading for rugby league. The news sent shock waves through New Zealand rugby circles. There was at first disbelief and a little scorn from some, although soon emotions quietened and sensible Kiwis wished him luck in his new career.
The departure of Gallagher to rugby league, along with fellow All Blacks Frano Botica, John Schuster and Matthew Ridge, awakened New Zealanders to the realisation that their national game was not the only one on the sporting horizon. The departure of ‘Kipper’ Gallagher also left an extremely hard-to-fill gap in the All Black backline. No player would be quite like the flying redhead from the Oriental-Rongotai club in Wellington.
Gallagher signed with the Leeds rugby league club after 18 tests for the All Blacks. He scored 13 tries in tests, and in one game, in Japan in 1987, he scored 30 points. His signing fee was reported to be $NZ1.3 million (at the time about £420,000), well in excess of the previous reported world record fee.
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