Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

‘Cut above’ Jack Kyle still hailed as Ireland’s greatest


Jack Kyle
Jack Kyle is possibly the greatest ever Irish rugby player. The fly half was a pivotal figure in Ireland's first Grand Slam in 1948 - it would be 61 years before the men in green achieved the feat again. Kyle played in all the matches in what was then the Five Nations Championship and followed up with the title twice in the next three years. Kyle made 46 appearances for Ireland between 1947 and 1958, a time in which international action was much less plentiful than it is now and long before the advent of the World Cup. He was also selected for the Lions, playing in all six Tests on the 1950 tour of Australia and New Zealand. Now 84, he spent much of his working life as a consultant surgeon in Africa. Kyle was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 1999 and was named the Greatest Ever Irish Rugby Player by the IRFU in 2002.

The IRFU Ulster Branch opened their Hall of Fame and there could have been no more distinguished inaugural winner than Dr Jack Kyle.

Although most of those who witnessed the 84-year-old lifting the award are too young to have seen him play, nevertheless the thunderous ovation that greeted his induction to the Belfast Telegraph-backed Hall of Fame provided irrefutable proof of his reputation and the regard and esteem in which he is held.

The words ‘legend’ and ‘icon’ are abused as a result of over-use by sportswriters. Not this time, however. Both nouns are wholly appropriate, for Belfast-born Jack Kyle’s name is one which has resonated for more than 60 years, and not only in rugby circles.

Now living in Bryansford, his status owes as much to things done off the pitch as to feats of skill and great daring performed on it.

A former pupil of Belfast Royal Academy and a graduate of Queen’s University, he trained as a doctor and ultimately specialised as a surgeon.

He made his name in that discipline, working for many years as a consultant in Chingola, Zambia.

His ability as a surgeon was tested frequently and fully, for often the conditions in which he worked were primitive.

To this day the people of that region recall his work amongst them and on their behalf.

Two months ago BBC NI profiled him in a programme entitled ‘A Cut Above’.

The film crew which accompanied him to Zambia captured footage that underlined his status among Africans.

A deeply committed Christian with a genuine compassion for others, he also undertook humanitarian work in Sumatra and Indonesia.

As his rugby achievements were recalled last night he was described as “a fly-half who inspired generations of players and is still widely regarded as Ireland’s greatest ever rugby player.”

Significantly, when Ireland finally completed their second Grand Slam by beating Wales in that never to be forgotten Cardiff showdown in 2008, the picture of captain Brian O’Driscoll and Jack Kyle in an embrace which exuded mutual respect and admiration was one that went round the world.

Last night’s citation heralding his induction to the Hall of Fame read: “Jack Kyle was the inspirational genius behind Ireland’s first Grand Slam triumph in 1948.

“In 1950 Jack also played in all six tests for the British and Irish Lions on their tour to New Zealand and Australia.

“When he retired from international rugby in 1958, his total of 46 caps from 11 seasons, which yielded seven tries, was a world record.

“Jack Kyle remains the players’ player and Ireland's legendary fly-half.”