Jack Kyle plied his trade in days when size didn’t matter
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 reflects.
“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,” is 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.”
While he was delighted to see that 61-year wait end, one detects regret — and concern — as he reflects 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.
“In last season’s Wales versus Ireland game my son pointed out that 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 heavy with it.
“It’s not unusual to read about a front row forward who weighs 18 or 19st and can move pretty fast, too. Now to tackle somebody of that weight compared to 14st, well . . .
“That’s why, when I see a player like Jonny Wilkinson tackling some of those big guys, I feel like shouting, ‘Jonny, get out of there for your own good. That’s not for you!’
“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.
“The other thing, of course, is that often in today’s game you get the chaps going straight for the man rather than trying to run round him.
“That is because they go in knowing they’ve got to get down, draw in the opposition and get the ball back.
“It’s all very different to the amateur days.”