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For anyone connected with the game on the island, Jack Kyle's name stands apart

By Tony Ward

His first cap came in January 1947 on a team that included Karl Mullen, JC Daly, Barney Mullan and Bill McKay, to name but a few at the start of a golden generation and golden period for Irish rugby.

I never got to see John Wilson Kyle play but for anyone remotely connected with rugby on this island, the name Jackie Kyle stands apart.

He won 46 caps for his country, a record for any out-half that stood for another 34 years until overtaken by Rob Andrew in 1992. He united rival communities as seamlessly and as effectively as he ripped opposition defences apart. Jack Kyle was special….very, very special.

Although preceded by Eugene Davy, I think it is generally recognised that Kyle lit the out-half flame that has burned for so many Irish out-halves and continues through Johnny Sexton to this day.

Many have come and gone, the list too long to name, but one player, one No 10 stands apart. Kyle is to Irish rugby what Pele was and continues still to be to football in Brazil.

While Jack the player I did not know - our first caps were 31 years apart - Jack the gentleman I most certainly did and in latter years particularly well at that. Forgive a little self indulgence here but mention of that first cap takes me back to the Shelbourne Hotel and an interview in the Sunday Independent with Seamus Martin the day after the game where Kyle declared "Ward very impressive".

He elaborated "naturally enough I paid a lot of attention to Tony Ward who was playing in my own position at out-half. It was great to see him go so well in his first game for Ireland. He looked an intelligent player and hardly put a foot wrong".

I was chuffed. Not only did Jack Kyle know my name but here was the consummate genius and ultimate rugby legend singing my praises on the airwaves and in the national newspapers.

I'm not too sure the introduction to rugby at the highest level got any better than that. But it did and from time to time he would sit me down and talk me through his perspective on my game.

In time, initially through Tony O'Reilly and subsequently through getting to know the man behind the legend much more intimately, I became really comfortable in his company.

His son Caleb was a rock in that and in every other respect. So much so that in 2006, in a book I did with John Scally entitled Life at Number Ten, there could be but one 'Perfect Ten' in the 20+ out halves included and but one 'Perfect Ten' to launch it. Thanks to Caleb, his dad did the business and the most reluctant out half star of all took centre stage that night.

Mention Jack and the words gentle, special, humble, caring come immediately to mind. He was all of that and so much more besides.

I too like my heroes to be fundamentally nice people and boy was JW Kyle that. He loved reciting poetry and did so with passion.

But he was a rugby star amongst stars. Inspiration behind the Grand Slam success in 1948 as well as Five Nations Champions in '48, '49 and '51 in what is known universally throughout the rugby world as 'the Kyle era'.

By everybody that is bar the man himself.

For over half a century he remained Ireland's most capped out half until fellow Ulsterman David Humphreys surpassed him.

While he had great respect for the modern day professional and all the game now entails he still held certain values I happen to share.

"In our day, we were trying to avoid the opposition; nowadays, they're deliberately running into people.

"It's a much tougher game. You need to be able to take the knocks." How right he was and how sadly accurate.

He toured with the Lions to New Zealand and Australia in 1950. It was the last of the old style tours and took six and a half months to complete. He was one of nine Irish players to make that tour.

One of his greatest rivals and one of Welsh rugby's greatest ever out-halves was former BBC commentator Cliff Morgan who described the Ireland Number Ten as "the very best, the loveliest of players and loveliest of men".

For anyone who knew the genius and gentleman that was Cliff there could be no finer tribute.

We'll leave that as his finest and most fitting legacy although any tribute to Jack would not be complete without the most oft quoted lines (borrowed from the Scarlet Pimpernel) to him, but never by him.

'They seek him here, they seek him there,

Those Frenchies seek him everywhere,

That paragon of pace and guile,

The damned elusive Jackie Kyle.'

 

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