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Just being on the same pitch was an honour: Williams

By Michael Sadlier

Ulster's European Cup winning coach Harry Williams has the distinction of actually having played against Jack Kyle when the latter's playing days were drawing to a close in the early 1960s.

Back then it was not entirely unusual for school teams to take on adult sides which is how Williams, then at Sullivan Upper, came to take the field in opposition to the Grand Slam winner and Lions player.

Needless to say it was an occasion that Williams has never forgotten and took place just before Kyle departed overseas in his medical career, as the former coach recounts with fondness.

"I was still at school when I actually played against him as he was right at the end of his career.

"It was Sullivan first XV against the then North (of Ireland) Wednesday team and I think it was just before he went to Zambia," Williams recalls.

"Playing against him that day I remember absolutely made everyone's day and at that stage was definitely the highlight of my career."

As for any opportunity of felling the legendary player or putting him under pressure, Williams laughs at the memory of a bunch of overeager schoolboys being shown the ropes by a man who was still masterful in his play.

"He was at out-half and even then we still just couldn't get near him. I played number seven and just couldn't touch him, even then."

Williams goes on to try and explain what Kyle meant to all those who played rugby and, essentially, the legend was created pure and simply through how he played the game.

"'Jack Kyle' is one of those names that will stick in the mind forever and he was a true gentleman," says Williams of a man whose humility was always central to his personality.

"It's really amazing that someone from that time made such an impact on world rugby and he is even still revered in New Zealand where he was on a Lions tour.

"I think his impact is greater than any other player I've ever known," said Williams.

He also brings up the famous picture taken in the immediate aftermath of Ireland's 2009 Grand Slam success, when Kyle is seen shaking hands with Brian O'Driscoll, as epitomising just what the older man meant to those who followed him playing the game at the highest level.

"I just love that image from 2009 when Brian O'Driscoll met him just after winning the Slam," Williams adds.

"O'Driscoll just had so much respect and so much reverence for him. That was magical."

"He was a lovely man and the footage of him playing, like when he scored a tremendous try against France at Ravenhill, is just an amazing thing to see."

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