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Jack Kyle RIP (1926-2014)

Jack Kyle RIP (1926-2014)

The death has occurred of Irish rugby icon Jack Kyle, the Grand Slam-winning out-half from 1948. His family have confirmed that Jack passed away at his home last night following a prolonged illness.

KYLE, peacefully at home – November 28, 2014 aged 88 years. John Wilson (Jack) dearly loved father of Caleb and Justine, brother of Betty, Brenda and Beatrice, father-in-law of Fiona and Conor, grandfather of Jack, Calum and Erin. Service of Thanksgiving on Tuesday, December 2, 2014 at 2.30pm in Fisherwick Presbyterian Church, Belfast.

Family flowers only please, donations in memory of Jack to Marie Curie Cancer Care and Northern Ireland Hospice (please make cheques payable to McClures charity account c/o McClures Funeral Service, 17 Dundrum Road, Newcastle, BT33 0BG). Will be sadly missed by all his loving family.

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Commenting on the sad news, IRFU President Louis Magee said: “On behalf of the IRFU and the entire rugby community in Ireland I extend our sincere condolences to the Kyle family. Jack is a true legend and gentleman of the game and he will be fondly remembered by everyone in the world of rugby.”

Born in Belfast on January 10, 1926, John Wilson ‘Jackie’ Kyle is rightly acknowledged as an Irish rugby great, the dashing, skillful out-half who lit up the Ireland back-line throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

Educated at Belfast Royal Academy, he studied medicine at Queen’s University and graduated in 1951 before going into practice as a GP in Belfast. He received an honorary doctorate from Queen’s in 1991, and was given a lifetime achievement award by the Irish Journal of Medical Science and the Royal Academy of Medicine of Ireland in 2007.

He played his club rugby at Queen’s University and North of Ireland and also impressed at provincial level for Ulster. He establishing the Jack Kyle Bursary fund in support of the Queen’s University RFC Academy in 2001.

Kyle’s most memorable contribution in the green jersey was the key role he played in the 1948 Grand Slam success, and he is often described as the mastermind behind that Championship triumph. How fitting it was that he was present at the Millennium Stadium in 2009 to witness Ireland end a 61-year wait for their next Grand Slam.

He made his debut for Ireland against France at Lansdowne Road on January 25, 1947. His profile in the match programme from that day read: “Generally regarded as Ireland’s most accomplished player behind the scrum. He was chosen against the British Army, and the French and English teams last season, but a leg injury against England kept him out of rugby for the rest of the season.

“In his second season of senior rugby, he is playing better than ever, his handling being particularly sound, and his straight cut-through most effective.”

Jack started all four Championship matches in 1948 and also won the Five Nations in 1949 and 1951, as his consistent performances marked him out as a pivotal figure for the national team.

Speaking of the day they beat Wales at his beloved Ravenhill to win the Grand Slam, he said: “The greatest memory of playing internationals at Ravenhill was winning the Grand Slam, especially the scenes after the final whistle.

“I can still see (prop) Jack Daly with the shirt torn off his back and supporters taking bits of sod up from where he scored what turned out to be the winning try.

“And I can remember his wonderful remark as he returned to the halfway line: ‘If Wales don’t score again I will be canonised!’”

Kyle’s enduring international career lasted between 1947 and 1958, during which he made 46 starts for Ireland and scored 7 tries and one drop goal – his first two Test tries came against England and Scotland during the Grand Slam season.

He played a remarkable seven consecutive Championship seasons – including six games as Ireland captain – before injury struck in 1954. He returned the following year and when he retired from the international scene in ’58, his haul of 46 caps – added to six Lions Tests – was a new world caps record, eclipsing the previous best set by France’s Jean Prat (51 Tests).

Noted Irish rugby journalist Paul MacWeeney famously parodied ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ after watching Kyle score a brilliant solo try against France at Ravenhill in 1953:

“They seek him here, they seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
The paragon of pace and guile,
That damned elusive Jackie Kyle!”

– Paul MacWeeney, 1953

The gifted Ulsterman also impressed in the famous red jersey of the British & Irish Lions, playing in a staggering 20 of the 29 games – including six Tests – on the 1950 tour to Australia and New Zealand. He helped them draw 9-9 with the All Blacks and notched a try in the 24-3 victory over Australia.

The New Zealand Almanac commended him as ‘an excellent team man, faultless in his handling, able to send out lengthy and accurate passes, and adept at making play for his supports’.

In addition, he lined out eight times for the Barbarians, whom he captained against Swansea in 1949 and East Midlands in 1953.

Kyle, who retired from club rugby in 1963, trained as a doctor and ultimately specialised as a surgeon. Having embarked on humanitarian work in Sumatra and Indonesia, he then worked as a consultant surgeon in Chingola, Zambia between 1966 to 2000.

After that he returned home to settle in Bryansford, Co. Down, at the foot of the Mourne Mountains. He still maintained a big interest in rugby up to his death, attending various club functions around the country and watching Ulster and Ireland matches on TV.

As an icon of the amateur era, he had a fascinating take on the marked differences between his playing days and the current professional game. “I watch the telly today and often laugh at how much it has changed. You look at the size of the guys. When we were playing the heaviest man was Karl Mullen. I don’t think we had a single man more than 15-and-a-half stone,” he told the Irish Examiner earlier this year.

“There are still good players, good plays. I’m always anxious to see the running game with tries being scored. Sometimes though that can be very few and far between. The defences are much better organised. I’m glad I’m not playing today!”

Although game-plans and systems are hugely important nowadays, players like Kyle thrived in the amateur game with a more simpler approach – using their vision, skill and speed to manufacture scores in an often spontaneous fashion.

“If I slap my right thigh send it out right – and if I slap my left thigh, send it left,” Kyle recalled of a rare moment of planning between himself and scrum half John O’Meara.

Jack, who received an OBE in 1959, was voted the best Ireland player of all-time in an IRFU poll in 2002 and was inducted into the International Rugby Board’s Hall of Fame in 2008. He is survived by his son Caleb and daughter Justine.