In the pantheon of Irish legends, Ulsterman Jack Kyle arguably sits at the very top. The fly-half behind the nation's first-ever Grand Slam possessed mesmeric qualities
Rugby’s Greatest: Jack Kyle
Major teams: Queen’s University, North of Ireland FC, Belfast
Test span: 1947-58
Ireland caps: 46 (46 starts)
Lions caps: 6 (6 starts)
Test points: 30 (9T, 1DG)
Out-half Jack Kyle was rugby’s ‘greatest’, one who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee long before Muhammad Ali copyrighted the phrase. He floated past tacklers with a deceptive change of pace and stung defences with teasing tactical kicks.
So lasting was his impact that, 40 years after his retirement, he was named Ireland’s greatest player in a poll conducted by their pressmen.
The basic skills were learnt at Belfast Royal Academy before Kyle emerged as a promising talent during his years as a medic at Queen’s University, Belfast. His blistering speed off the mark fired Ireland to three Five Nations titles – including two Triple Crowns and a Grand Slam – in the early post-war seasons when he was the tournament’s outstanding player.
The deceptive acceleration he attributed to his training methods. “I practised being fast over 25 yards,” he said, “and always carried the ball in training.”
Kyle was the first home unions player to pass 50 Test appearances – 46 for his country, and six Lions Tests on the 1950 Lions tour of New Zealand and Australia, where critics described him as “the genius of the side”.
He could control a game with tactical kicking and had uncanny positional sense, invariably popping up at unexpected moments in defence to cover dangerous situations. Tackling, perhaps, was not his strong point, but then few fly-halves of his generation were renowned for that aspect of their game.
A doctor who spent most of his post-rugby life working abroad, including more than 30 years in Zambia, Kyle was a true gentleman.
Cliff Morgan recalled a kindly hand on his shoulder as he filed onto the field on his Welsh debut in 1951. It was Jack. “Have a great game, Cliffie,” his opponent said. And requests from youngsters for autographs were graciously acknowledged, neatly signed “with best wishes” by the great man. They don’t make them like that any more.
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