Former Ireland prop Gary Halpin dies aged 55

Kilkenny native is best remembered for try against the All Blacks in 1995

Gary Halpin, who won 11 caps for Ireland, has died aged 55. The Kilkenny-born tighthead prop is best remembered for his try-scoring gesture in a 1995 Rugby World Cup pool match against New Zealand, turning to the All Blacks, he offered a double middle-finger salute.

Gerry Murphy’s Ireland team had the temerity to score the first try of the match in 1995, a move straight from the training ground as scrumhalf Michael Bradley tapped a free-kick and gave it to the onrushing Halpin about six metres from the New Zealand line. The tighthead prop thundered through the attempted tackles of Jamie Joseph and Mike Brewer to crash over.

In an interview many years later, Halpin offered some context to his reaction. “(New Zealander hooker) Sean Fitzpatrick had been winding us up, calling us Paddies. And I couldn’t really believe I’d actually scored a try.

“It was a rather stupid thing to do, being a teacher and all. And it’s kind of embarrassing because I’ve gone on to meet a lot of those All Blacks since, Zinzan Brooke from my time at Harlequins, his brother Robin, and Jamie Joseph.

“But I dined out on it like a lord. That was when I discovered that South Africans hated the Kiwis more than anyone. I loved telling the story; you’d embellish it a bit every time, just to get bought another beer.

“I sidestepped Lomu three times in that game, the only problem was he was the one carrying the ball at that stage. It’s Sean Fitzpatrick, every time I see him I want to give him the finger. He is a great player and all that. It was a rush of blood to the head. In that competition these guys were sold to us as unstoppable and they proved to be right to that last hurdle.”

A free spirit and a great character with a wonderful sense of humour, Halpin represented Blackrock College, Wanderers, Leinster, London Irish and Harlequins during his career.

Educated at Rockwell College, Halpin was a dual international sportsman, playing schools rugby for Ireland while at Rockwell College, before accepting a scholarship to Manhattan College. He won the 35lb weight throw at the 1988 NCAA Division 1 indoor collegiate championships and earned All American status for his throwing on four occasions. He represented Ireland in the 1987 World Athletics Championship in Rome.

Upon returning to Ireland in 1989, he joined Wanderers, toured North America with the Irish senior squad, and the following year made his debut against England at Twickenham. He won his 11th and final cap of a five-year international career in a 1995 World Cup quarter-final defeat to France.

He spent two decades teaching in England at St George’s College, Weybridge and the Oratory School outside Reading. His pupils were intrigued to know that Halpin featured in Jonah Lomu Rugby, Playstation’s first ever rugby game.

He admitted: “Interestingly, and the kids showed this to me, one of the hardest things in the game is to try and get me to score a try. They’ve had various competitions to try and get me over the line. If they manage it, and they had the proof on replay, I gave them a present.”

Halpin subsequently returned to Ireland to take up a position as Head of Boarding at Cistercian College, Roscrea. Irish rugby has lost one of its great characters. Sincere condolences to his family and friends. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

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