Key Points:

On Tuesday May 22 it will be 20 years since the All Blacks opened their first Rugby World Cup campaign with a 70-6 thrashing of Italy. They went on to win the final 29-9 at Eden Park against France. Chris Rattue catches up with the players who made history that day - and finds out what they are doing now.

JOHN GALLAGHER (Wellington)
Age: 43. All Black career: 1986-89 (18 tests)

The transplanted Englishman had a shooting star All Black career in which he never tasted a test defeat. His gliding runs into the backline earned him a world rugby player of the year title in 1989, voted for by the British press. Funny that. The award was an over-statement even though Gallagher was a revelation as an attacking fullback. Anyway, Gallagher celebrated this world title by switching codes and certainly wasn't the world's greatest league player with Leeds. He was greeted with a spear tackle and his career went in a similar direction. The former policeman is now a teacher in south-east London at Colfe's School. He was recently appointed head of the prep (under-13) school, and was the director of sport before that.

JOHN KIRWAN (Auckland)
Age: 42. 1984-94 (63 tests)

The legendary wing set the first World Cup alight with his long range try against Italy in the opener at Eden Park. Tasted World Cup disappointment in 1991, and had a couple of league seasons with the Warriors. Kirwan was an assistant coach with the Blues then coached Italy before being dumped. Now, he's in charge of the Japanese side. If you haven't seen Kirwan lately, you clearly aren't watching enough TV. He features in a series of depression awareness adverts, where he reveals his own problems with the illness. Kirwan's rugby fortunes may have eventually mirrored those of a waning All Black side, but at his best there was no greater sight than the big wing jinking and charging past defenders.

JOE STANLEY (Auckland)
Age: 50. 1986-91 (27 tests)

One of the great All Black centres, who was close to 30 by the time he pulled on his first black jersey. A stonewall on the field, and also when it came to the media. Had a coaching stint in Japan after retiring. The only member of the World Cup winning side to have an All Black son - Jeremy played three non-test matches in 1997. He's gone from pouring cement to pouring drinks. Once a concrete truck driver, Joe Stanley now runs an Auckland-based corporate hospitality business with former Silver Fern Julie Coney.

WARWICK TAYLOR (Canterbury)
Age: 47. 1983-88 (24 tests)

Taylor was the steady influence in the backline, but his composure was tested in the Eden Park car park after the final. Taylor thought the winners' medals were on ribbons. Having gone to meet his parents, he felt around his neck and was stunned to find no medal.

"I was looking underneath cars and whatever else in the car park. I panicked. I thought, 'I've just won a World Cup medal - and lost it in 10 minutes'."

Taylor found his medal by his gear.

He said the 1987 side felt they were representing the generations before them. "The most memorable part was the final whistle. It was relief more than anything else," he said from Christchurch.

"We played that first World Cup for all those All Blacks who had gone before us, who'd been the best in the world. We were there to show that 'yes, they were the best'. Their deeds gave us a 10-point advantage before we got out there."

Taylor quit playing in 1990 because of an injury which had the potential to lead to a broken neck. He and wife Tracy had three young children and he did not want to take the risk of playing on.

Since then, his life has mirrored the solid image of his playing days. He has taught at Burnside High School for 23 years and is now assistant head of physical education. He coached the first XV until this year.

After retiring from playing, he moved into the radio commentary box after Doug Bruce departed and has been there ever since, including the great Crusader years.

His most vivid memory from the final is knocking the ball away from Alan Whetton's grasp, leaving Michael Jones to score. Taylor's memory of this has often been refreshed by Whetton. "I thought AJ was one of the French guys.

"One disappointing thing is that we never really had time to sit down together and celebrate.

"We had a quick time together in the sheds, then two functions and ended up spread out all over the place.

"A few ex-All Blacks visited our hotel the next morning and, by lunchtime, we were on the plane home. By Monday morning, I was back teaching.

"The closest we got to a reunion was at the Halbergs in 2000 - but a lot of the players were still overseas. It would be great to catch up, I haven't seen a few of them since those days.

"Brian Lochore said we wouldn't realise how important the day was until later in life. I suppose the more the years have gone by and the All Blacks have missed out, you realise it was a special time.'

CRAIG GREEN (Canterbury)
Age: 46. 1983-87 (20 tests)

Green, who started as an inside back, won't trouble the selectors when it comes to picking all-time All Black teams. But he was way above average, a superb finisher, and formed one of the top All Black wing partnerships with John Kirwan. Builder Green was atop a house in Christchurch two days after the World Cup final and - looking out - decided the shamateur game wasn't for him anymore. He packed his bags for Italy and is still there, where he coaches Benetton Treviso. There's a bit of symetry there. Both Green and Kirwan played for Treviso and married Italians.

GRANT FOX (Auckland)
Age: 44. 1984-93 (46 tests)

Tactical maestro. Kicking ace. Very occasional runner and tackler. Fox kept the dazzling Frano Botica out in the cold during this World Cup. They don't make them like Fox anymore because they wouldn't survive nowadays. But he was a class act who ran the All Blacks' 1987 World Cup show, although he also experienced World Cup disappointment in 1991. He dabbled with coaching but is most visible as a serious-minded newspaper columnist, is a go-to man for the media, and will fill the screen for TV3 at this year's World Cup alongside Alan Whetton. He's also been sighted caddying for his son Ryan. Foxy was famously bossy as a player, but now his World Cup halfback David Kirk is the boss. Captain Kirk heads the media group which Fox supplies columns for.


DAVID KIRK (Auckland, captain)
Age: 46. 1983 - 1987 (17 tests)

Took the reins when Andy Dalton was eliminated by injury and has been running things ever since. Retired straight after the World Cup to take up a Rhodes Scholarship which enabled him to captain Oxford University, and he also coached Wellington, worked for former Prime Minister Jim Bolger, and is now chief executive of Fairfax Holdings. Kirk liked Trade Me so much that he put in a successful $700m bid for the company in his first major act as Fairfax boss - the most famous acquisition in New Zealand history. Kirk led a World Cup team repairing the schisms caused by the rebel 1986 tour of South Africa, which he had shunned. He was authoritative and solid during the tournament, then a central figure in the final as New Zealand quickly saw off the French. Kirk scored off a Michael Jones break, beating centre Philippe Sella and hooker Daniel Dubroca who was his opposing captain. Kirk then ran brilliantly on the narrow side from the kickoff, beating tacklers and linking with Wayne Shelford to set up John Kirwan's try. Maybe the most enduring image of the tournament are the historic photos of the boyishly handsome Kirk grinning in the Eden Park grandstand, surrounded by the players and public, holding the Webb Ellis Trophy. The country lapped it up _ he was the perfect man for the time. His connection with the public has probably waned over time due to the brevity of his playing career and his lofty - and at times political - status. The man has a heck of a CV.

WAYNE SHELFORD (North Harbour)
Age: 49. 1985-90 (22 tests)

Shelford's passion for coaching is undiminished. His 1987 recall is more measured. "I've never looked at a tape - you watch enough rugby without having to watch the old stuff," he says.

"It does make you feel good to look back, but everyone is 20 years older and you have to live for today."

Shelford and his wife Jo returned to New Zealand late last year after he coached the under-performing English club Saracens. Family illness led to their return.

Shelford has taken over the Wade Hotel in Silverdale again, although he wants to sell it. There are other business ventures in the air, but coaching stirs his blood.

Shelford coached North Harbour before leaving New Zealand, his blunt style making headlines in a behind-the-scenes documentary. "I love coaching and would love a Super 14 side. As you get older, you change a bit and get wiser," he says.

The 1987 final launched a great All Black era with Buck Shelford at the helm. He became a legendary player and captain after taking over from the retired David Kirk, a draw against Australia the only blemish. "We knew we had the acid on the French - I could see it as the forward leader," he says. "We led 9-0 at halftime, which was big then, and two early second half tries meant we had the game won.

"We were a very confident side by the final although it wasn't the most complete performance. We got a lot better. The coaches created something that rolled on for the next three years."

The preparation, Shelford recalls, was scant by today's norm. "We only trialled six weeks before it kicked off and went into camp a week before," he says.

"The tournament was a novelty and other countries were negative but New Zealand and Australia had taken a punt and we decided to have a real crack at it.

"We created an iconic tournament, one of the greatest sports events on this planet. They'll look back in 100 years' time at those 1987 All Blacks who were the first to win it."

Shelford retired in 1991, having been famously dumped by Alex Wyllie in 1990, leading to the "Bring Back Buck" campaign. The phrase lives on.

"People know it will end up on TV. I have a chuckle when I hear about it, although I don't watch much sport on TV," he says.

He is philosophical about the All Blacks' World Cup misses since 1987. "You can play as many tournaments as you like, but it comes down to that one and a half hours on the field, the points on the board. Nothing more, nothing less." he says.

"You've got to reach the final, to say that you had a chance. The '95 team were very unlucky - but the other three didn't make the final and so were not worthy of winning it."

MICHAEL JONES (Auckland)
Age: 42. 1987-98 (55 tests)

Legends don't come any greater than this. The finest of rugby athletes, and still revered as among the handful of best to ever play the game. The 1987 tournament was his time, the brilliant and instant flowering of a remarkable talent. Grace, balance, courage, strength, speed, ball skills. He even re-invented his game to masterly effect later after recovering from a terrible knee injury. You name it, and Jones had it. Maybe only his hands let him down at times. He didn't play on Sundays which was a little frustrating for the rest of us. But coaches were, quite understandably, very understanding although it cost him a place in the 1995 World Cup squad. The iconic player of the first World Cup and he had a terrific final. Is often credited as the first World Cup scorer, although a penalty try against Italy was the first official touch down. Jones nailed two university degrees while playing and heads the trailblazing Pasifika advancement office at the Auckland University of Technology. He will coach Samoa at this year's World Cup, having survived a recent skirmish with his rugby bosses.

ALAN WHETTON (Auckland)
Age: 47. 1984-91 (35 tests)

Whetton experienced the highs and lows of the World Cup as a player in 1987 and 1991. He hasn't missed a World Cup since, leading tour groups to three tournaments.

Whetton will commentate for TV3 in France this year, while assisting another tour group. He will share the microphone with Grant Fox.

The pair are business rivals in the sports signage field, although Whetton says that in the small New Zealand market they complement each other more than anything else. They are in regular contact.

"Grant is analytical, technical. I'll be more emotional and in more layman's terms," he says of their TV work.

"I won't pull any punches. Rightly or wrongly the World Cup takes precedence now and the desire to win after 20 years will become a crescendo."

Whetton was the most immaculate of blindside loose forwards - the perfect package at his peak. He was the prototype for the modern lock-loose forward and there have been none better.

With hands buried into his waist, he strode back to halfway after scoring tries on a high number of occasions, notching 10 in 35 tests.

Whetton, who lives in Auckland with his flight attendant wife Nicci and daughters Maddison and Olivia, finished playing in New Zealand in 1993 by captaining Grammar. His final game was on a suburban ground, although he forgets which one.

But Eden Park is back in his life - his offices are there.

He says the All Blacks' 1987 World Cup final performance against France had powerful undertones.

"It was a bit of payback time - the boys got beaten up in Nantes the year before and this was a wrong to be righted," he says.

"Of the forwards, Michael Jones and I did not play in Nantes but we were all aware of it. The boys would not take a backward step.

"A couple of things happened early on which showed the boys hadn't forgotten. The message was 'Play your best France, but you are going to get the #$@^ kicked out of you'.

"In those days you could administer a bit of punishment that was due. The team took over from that point, and played the footy we knew we could play."

Whetton recalls there was no clear favourite before the World Cup started. But it was the perfect point in many of the All Blacks' careers.

"The build-up was the script from heaven, and the team makeup was spot on. Everything fell into place and there is always a bit of luck with that," he says.

There were a few thousand spectators at training, which spurred them on further. The camaraderie was exceptional.

After the final glory on Saturday afternoon, contractor Whetton was back driving his five-tonne truck at 7 on Monday morning, a little worse for wear.

He's mystified why there has never been a reunion, and considered organising one.

"My dream now is to commentate on the All Blacks in the final," he says." At least we have a 50/50 chance then."

GARY WHETTON (Auckland)
Age: 47. 1981-91 (58 tests)

Superbly athletic lock at the 1987 World Cup, a well-respected scrummager, and central to the period of All Black greatness which began with this tournament. One of the top-drawer All Black locks. He and Alan are the only twins to play in a World Cup final - a record that will take some breaking. Went on to become All Black captain in the ill-fated 1991 campaign. Saw out his playing days in France, appearing in a grand final. Nowadays, he owns an insurance brokerage and is on the Auckland Rugby Union board. More World Cup symmetry: his 1987 locking partner Murray Pierce is in a similar line of business.


MURRAY PIERCE (Wellington)
Age: 49. 1984-90 (26 tests)

Pierce doesn't mince words when casting an eye over New Zealand's last four World Cup campaigns. "It annoys me to this day that we are the only successful All Black World Cup-winning team," he says.

"In my wildest dreams, I never thought it would take this long to do again. Hopefully ... this year."

Pierce and his wife Carolyn will be at the 2007 World Cup from the quarter-final stage, leading another tour group. It will be their 15th tour, and fourth to a World Cup.

Pierce retired from rugby at the end of 1990 after failing to make the test team in France. A youngster called Ian Jones was on the way up, and Pierce could see the writing on the wall.

"Before the kickoffs in France I'd be thinking of reasons not to play the game," he confesses.

"I thought, 'This is crazy, my time is obviously up. Let's put rugby behind me and get stuck into another career'."

The former policeman found the insurance and investment industry, and has been there ever since. He is the managing director of Coastal Financial. The long work hours are, he says, the main reason he never tried coaching.

The Pierces left Wellington in the late 1980s for the "sandy resort" of Waikanae 60km north of the capital. Pierce's main rugby involvement, apart from the tours, was as a radio commentator at Athletic Park and the Cake Tin before he quit three years ago.

Pierce was a fine lock and a classy ballwinner in the lineouts, but not the flashy sort. The World Cup final was the pinnacle of his career.

"I remember the relief - we'd won the damn thing and satisfied everyone's desires," he recalls.

"We stayed at the Poenamo Hotel in Takapuna and hundreds of people saw us get on the coach, which was unprecedented.

"We knew we were in for something special, seeing the spectators lined up cheering as we drove towards Eden Park.

"The weather was really good, and conducive to the type of game we were playing. I've never watched a replay but the memories are of the tries and especially Michael Jones scoring the first, his sheer athleticism and the game he played back then.

"The French were unpredictable and dangerous but we got in their faces and shut them down.

"They scored in the last two minutes but Eden Park was in a frenzy because we'd dominated. I raised a fist in triumph and the terraces erupted."

If anything niggles at his glowing World Cup memory, it is that the All Blacks were unable to put their world-champion status to the full test against the ostracised Springboks.

Pierce's All Black pride lives on with the tour groups.

"We enjoy travelling and the challenge of looking after a group of Kiwis paying a lot of money to follow the All Blacks," he says.

"I don't bore them to tears about '87, but they're keen to know so you open up and try to paint the picture for them."

JOHN DRAKE (Auckland)
Age: 48. 1985-87 (8 tests)

The scrum bulwark, and nifty around the field for a tighthead in those days earning a remarkable reputation for such a short career. In the only real All Black selection battle at the tournament, he saw off Richard Loe and had a fine tournament. After winning the World and Bledisloe Cups Drakey called it quits. He has been a scrum advisor off and on since. His career may have been brief compared to many in the 1987 team, but Drake has among the highest profiles as a respected television commentator and Herald columnist. Drake lives with his family in Mt Maunganui, where he supplements his Herald earnings through ventures in the garment trade and property development.

SEAN FITZPATRICK (Auckland)
Age: 43. 1986 - 87 (92 tests)

Fitzpatrick only got his 1987 chance through Andy Dalton's injury, and it launched one of the greatest of all rugby careers. He became the All Black test record holder, and longest serving captain. Highly combative, his barrel chest even led front rows into scrum battle. He left an indelible print on rugby although he experienced double World Cup disappointment after 1987. Fitzpatrick had stints as a rugby team manager but was always reticent about coaching, and stayed clear. Along with Fox, Jones and Kirwan, Ftizpatrick is in rugby's International Hall of Fame. He left Auckland for London three years ago to be a rugby analyst for SKY and the BBC. Famously overly-measured with his aftermatch quotes as a player, he has livened up in that department and is widely quoted when he pipes up on matters rugby.

STEVE MCDOWELL (Auckland)
Age: 45. 1985 - 92 (46 tests)

As with a clutch of players, the first World Cup foretold a magnificent test career for Steve McDowell although he too was part of the poor 1991 campaign. The athletic McDowell popped up in unusual places for a prop in those days and he's kind of followed suit since. McDowell has had a relatively low profile but turned up as a Fight For Life boxer and as a character witness in a high profile court case. It also emerged that his surname is in fact McDowall, despite always playing as McDowell. He lists his occupations as working for a youth foundation and residential property development.

DON'T FORGET US...The rest of the 1987 World Cup squad:
Kieran Crowley
Terry Wright
Bernie McCahill
Frano Botica
Bruce Deans
Andy Earl
Zinzan Brooke
Mark Brooke-Cowden
Albert Anderson
Richard Loe
Andy Dalton
Coach Brian Lochore: He's still there, as the elder-statesman among the All Black selectors.
Assistant coach Alex Wyllie: Happily ensconced in rural Canterbury.
Assistant coach John Hart: Has re-emerged as a boss at the rugby league Warriors.

PATH TO GLORY
beat Italy 70-6
beat Fiji 74-13
beat Argentina 46-15
beat Scotland 30-3
beat Wales 49-6
beat France 29-9