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There was only one Jack Kyle: He was phenomenal; we will never see the likes of this great rugby player again

By George Hook

John Wilson Kyle won the then world record of 46 caps for Ireland between 1947 and 1958. In those 12 seasons he missed only four games through injury and otherwise was an automatic choice.

Only in his retirement was he known as "Jack." To a generation of rugby supporters all over the world he was "Jackie" Kyle

He made his debut against France in Lansdowne Road 18 days after his 21st birthday. He was a medical student at the Queens University and it was the first official international after the end of World War Two.

Because of the eight-year interruption due to hostilities, there were 14 new caps in the Irish side, only full-back and captain Con Murphy had played in the pre-war era.

In 2002, Kyle was named by the IRFU as the greatest Irish rugby player of all time and in 2008, he was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame. His greatness stands not just on his performances for Ireland, but particularly on the 1950 Lions tour to New Zealand.

He is still considered by that country as one of the greatest players to have ever toured there and he was named as one of the six players of that year by the New Zealand Rugby Almanac.

When measuring Kyle's performance against a modern day number 10, it is important to understand the offside law at that time.

Offside was determined not by a line at the opponents hindmost foot, but the position of the ball. Also at the scrum, the flanker could disengage and stand facing the fly half.

Kyle and his contemporaries were now faced with the defender less than five yards away, but it is a testament to the extraordinary talent of the Irishman that in New Zealand he was judged as the finest attacking fly half they had ever seen.

Astonishingly, Kyle played in 20 of the 29 games on that tour. He scored a hat-trick against West Coast and Buller. Three tries are unusual for any individual but Kyle is the only Irish fly half in history to do so.

When one considers the defensive alignments of the time it is even more extraordinary. On that same tour his performance in the first test in Dunedin was magnificent.

The match ended nine points apiece, but Kyle scored a try, made one for wing Ken Jones and forced a penalty, kicked by John Robins.

The attrition of Lions tours is immense and only four played in all four tests in 1950. Kyle was the only three-quarter with a 100% record which was a testament to his fitness when one considers that in five weeks of the tour he played in both the weekend and midweek games.

For Ireland his performances never dropped below the outstanding. Some highlights were the manner in which he masterminded the Grand Slam season of 1948; the outstanding individual try against France in 1953; his drop goal from the touchline beat Wales in 1956; and his tactical kicking was vital in the defeat of Australia in 1958.

Kyle was a consummate defender in the manner of his era. With the law allowing the flanker to stand so close to the opposing number 10, Kyle's job was to cover cross-field towards the corner flag and make many of the last-ditch tackles that today we associate with the full-back. He was brave to a fault.

In 1958, as Australia threatened to sink an Irish team playing against the wind, time and again Kyle made courageous marks to deny the opponents.

He was cruelly treated in 1955 when an arbitrary decision was made by the Lions selectors not to select anybody over the age of 30 for the tour of South Africa. Ireland had a bad season in the run-up to the tour, failing to win a match in the championship.

However, it did not prevent Robin Thompson being selected as captain and teenagers Tony O'Reilly and Cecil Pedlow going as three quarters. Second row Tom Reid and hooker Robin Roe made up the Irish contingent.

It is difficult to compare players of different generations. It is even more difficult to compare players of the amateur and professional eras.

One must consider that when Kyle was the best number ten in the world he was also attempting to qualify as a doctor and lived in in an Ulster where post-war rationing continued for most of his career.

Brian O'Driscoll, who of course has his own claims to greatness, cites Kyle as his hero. Look at the main picture on this page and you can see how delighted O'Driscoll, who had just won the Grand Slam with Ireland in Cardiff, was to meet the great man.

It can be said with certainty that we will never see his like again.

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