'Rusty' Gallagher enjoys his friendly practice session

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The Independent Online
Harlequins 74 Rosslyn Park 22

As a whetstone, Rosslyn Park - bottom but one of the Third Division - was hardly the toughest of surfaces for the former All Black, John Gallagher, to sharpen his skills and rediscover his cutting edge in rugby union, particularly if the prediction of his coach, Dick Best, comes to pass; that Gallagher will be playing in the 1996 Five Nations' Championship for Ireland, probably in the centre.

Last Friday a Rugby Football Union commission allowed Gallagher, 31, to return to the 15-a-side code in England, but only in friendlies. Harlequins have lined up plenty of those for him. He had already played in Ieuan Evans' testimonial match in Llanelli last month, as well as sitting on the bench for Irish Exiles in the Provincial Championship last weekend.

Six years ago, he was recognised as the best full-back in the world, at which point, after 18 New Zealand caps, he joined Leeds for what was then a record pounds 500,000 deal. Gallagher's first match on English soil, since facing the Barbarians at Twickenham in November 1989, left him saying: "That was OK, but I was a bit rusty in everything I did."

He is playing down the possibility of a new international career. He qualifies on the residential front and has Irish parents, but Gallagher, professional that he is, is taking it one match at a time. "I consider getting back into the game as a real bonus," Gallagher, who is teaching science and PE at Colfe's School in South London, said.

As comebacks go, it was impressive, Gallagher, watched by an Irish selector, crowned it with a 65-yard sprint for the Park line. He was chased all the way by scrum-half Tim Smithers, the quickest player on the Park side, before touching down under the posts. Not surprisingly Gallagher eschewed the conversion attempt, leaving that to four-try Chris Wright.

His own form with the boot was mixed, six successes in 11 attempts, but Quins' try-scorers were not as obliging as Gallagher had been, touching down, as they did for the most part, well wide of the posts. Defensively he had little to do but was not caught out during the 12-try romp, Rosslyn Park's biggest ever defeat. His incursions into the line were pacy, although for much of the time his colleagues tended to use him as a decoy, leaving the opposition to worry about his lurking presence. Whether England, France, Scotland and Wales will also have to worry come next month remains to be seen.

Harlequins: Tries Walshe, Ozdemir, Bromley 3, Wright 4, Davies, Gallagher, O'Leary; Conversions Gallagher 6, Wright. Rosslyn Park: Tries Holt, Bayles 2; Conversions Rowland 2; Penalty Rowland.

Harlequins: J Gallagher; D O'Leary, R Davies, G Harrison, S Bromley; C Wright, N Walshe; A Ozdemir, S Mitchell (M Pepper, 17), S Brown, A Snow (capt) (S White-Cooper, 17), A Jackson, M Russell, G Allison, I Pickup.

Rosslyn Park: A Holder (R Holt, 10); P Nicholls, A Maddock, E Rayner, R Wharton; J Rowland, T Smithers; B Fennell, D Barnett, D Vas, S Bayles, L Gibson, D James, G Boardman, A Milward (capt).

Referee: D Sainsbury (London).

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