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He didn't need great size to be a rugby giant

By Niall Crozier

The late Jack Kyle shone at a time when rugby was a strictly amateur game, played on Saturday afternoons as a recreation by men who pursued their careers from Monday to Friday.

To today's best players, however, it is their living and recreation is an activity that doesn't involve rugby.

"There is a huge difference in rugby as it was and today's game," he told us recently.

"There was no talk of a Grand Slam in 1948. That's something that really wasn't talked about until the 1960s. The Triple Crown was the big time.

"The following year we lost to France, but we beat England, Scotland and Wales and that was what mattered.

"It was only with the passage of time that our achievement was given a significance it ought never to have had," was his modest assessment.

"And the only reason for that was that Ireland never won another Grand Slam for 61 years. So every time there was a possibility of an Irish side doing it, out came the old photographs of our Grand Slam team."

However, one detected regret - and concern - when he reflected on some of the changes professionalism has brought.

"Look at the size of the guys today. It's remarkable. When I went out on the Lions tour of Australia-New Zealand in 1950 our heaviest player was 15st 4lbs," he recalled. Last season the Welsh scrum-half was over 16st.

"The heaviest of the back row forwards in our Grand Slam team wasn't quite 14st.

"The tallest guy the 1950 Lions had was 6'2". Nowadays you have players of 6'5" and 6'6" and front row forwards who weigh 18 or 19st and can move pretty fast, too.

"I read somewhere that the careers of 25 per cent of professional rugby players end early because of injury. I think that just comes down to the sheer size and speed involved."

Belfast Telegraph

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