AUCKLAND // The legacy of Dave Gallaher, the man who helped establish the template for New Zealand's enduring rugby success, touched the All Blacks side as they began their final preparations today for the Rugby World Cup.
Fresh off the plane after successive defeats in the Tri Nations to South Africa and Australia, Richie McCaw's team were presented to the New Zealand media at the Ponsonby Rugby Club, who gave the All Blacks their first captain.
"Dave Gallaher was a Ponsonby man and his photo is down the end there," the New Zealand Rugby Union president and former All Blacks winger Bryan Williams said of the framed photo in the clubrooms close to Auckland's CBD.
"He was our first All Black [and] was a very revered member of this club," Williams added of Gallaher, whose expansive play and black jersey led to the New Zealand side's nickname.
Gallaher captained the hallowed 1905 "Originals" side that toured Britain, France and North America.
The Originals played 35 games, losing just one, the famous 3-0 defeat to Wales that is remembered for the Bob Deans disallowed try. They scored 976 points while conceding just 59 and revolutionised the training techniques, playing style and tactics of the game.
Gallaher was killed at Passchendaele during World War I and his legacy includes the Gallaher Shield — the symbol of Auckland's club supremacy — and the Dave Gallaher Trophy, which is contested between New Zealand and France.
The link was poignant. France have become something of a nemesis for the All Blacks at the World Cup, coming back from substantial margins at half time to knock the heavily favoured New Zealanders out of the 1999 and 2007 tournaments.
The two sides have been drawn together in Pool A and the All Blacks, who have failed to win the Webb Ellis trophy since they beat France 29-9 in the final of the first tournament in 1987, will enter the World Cup again as favourites when they open the competition on September 9 against Tonga at Eden Park.
However, their losses to the world champion Springboks and trans-Tasman rivals Australia in their final two games of the Tri Nations have stalled the hosts' momentum in the build up.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry played down the significance of the two losses, saying they had helped shake any complacency out of their system.
"We have had split goals over the last two or three weeks and they unfortunately did not marry together," Henry said, referring to a decision to split his squad and rest a number of key players for the South Africa Test.
"We have just one goal for the next eight weeks and that is to play extremely high quality rugby and hopefully win the Rugby World Cup.
"I hate losing but I think we have got real focus now and there is no every expectation of what we can do. We know what we have to do and there is no complacency."
Henry was also mindful of Gallaher's legacy, saying it would serve to inspire his vastly experienced side.
"I don't think there is any greater expectation in rugby than [that] on the All Blacks team and that is why they have been so successful," Henry said of the team's win ratio of almost 75 per cent in their history.
"[They are] the most successful side in professional sport and that is something that the All Blacks are very proud of.
"There will be huge expectations and I think that will bring the best out of the guys."