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Jack Kyle's death a 'massive loss' to rugby, says Tommy Bowe

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster's Tommy Bowe has paid tribute to Jack Kyle after a thanksgiving service for the rugby legend was held in Belfast yesterday.

The out-half, capped 46 times by Ireland between 1947 and 1958, passed away on Friday at the age of 88.

Bowe was a try-scorer in Ireland's victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium in 2009 that saw Declan Kidney's men follow in the footsteps of the Kyle-inspired 1948 squad and secure only their second ever Grand Slam.

While the picture of Kyle embracing then-captain Brian O'Driscoll after the contest is one of Irish rugby's most enduring images, Bowe recalls that the man once voted Ireland's best ever player took the time to meet the whole squad.

The Ulster wing said: "I remember we were all introduced to him back in 2009 and I was fortunate enough with Jack that I met him about a couple of times.

"I'd see him here at Ravenhill, and down in Dublin as well."

Kyle, like Bowe, represented Queen's University, Ulster, Ireland and the British and Irish Lions during his career, and the 30-year-old Monaghan man feels that his loss will be keenly felt by all four.

Speaking before attending the service at Fisherwick Presbyterian Church, he said: "It's a massive loss for the rugby community.

"I mean, he's touched a lot of people and I'm sure there'll be a huge turnout at the funeral."

Bowe was in attendance yesterday along with Ulster and Ireland team-mates such as Rory Best and Andrew Trimble, while a host of rugby legends also turned out to show their respect, including Willie John McBride, David Humphreys and Mike Gibson, Fergus Slattery, Tom Kiernan and Ollie Campbell.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was also on hand to pay tribute to one of the province's most decorated players.

As well as the heroics of 1948, Kyle was part of the side that won a Triple Crown and the championship one year later and they also lifted the Five Nations trophy in 1951 when only a draw in Wales prevented another Grand Slam.

He was capped six times by the Lions on their 1950 tour to New Zealand and played in 20 of the 29 games on the trip.

Upon retiring, the qualified doctor who was awarded an OBE in 1959, spent time in Indonesia before moving to Zambia where he worked as a consultant surgeon.

Thanks to his work in Africa, Kyle was awarded an honorary doctorate from Queen's University in 1991 and a lifetime achievement award from the the Irish Journal of Medical Science and the Royal Academy of Medicine of Ireland.

After returning to Northern Ireland in 2000, he spent his retirement in Bryansford, Co Down and was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame in 2006.

Speaking at yesterday's thanksgiving service, Colin Morris, a close friend, said: "You realised that it wasn't the rush of adrenalin at great sporting occasions that drove him. What really drove him was the agonising sense of the need to be humanely useful to those in need.

"He had genius but he had something rarer than that, he had goodness. His solemnity was counterbalanced by that mischievous Irish sense of humour of his."

A private funeral service was held earlier in the day.

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