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Remembering Jack Kyle’s Playing Career

Remembering Jack Kyle’s Playing Career

For those of us too young to have seen Jack Kyle play, it can be difficult to fathom just how good the legendary out-half was. We do, at least, have some video archive footage to see the Belfast man in full flight for Ireland and the Lions.

1. JACK’S FIRST TRY FOR IRELAND (Ireland v England, February 14, 1948)

Jack Kyle marked his seventh cap for Ireland with his first try. It was a crucial score in a 11-10 win over England at Twickenham on St. Valentine’s Day 1948 – the second leg of the famous Grand Slam.

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Back in the days when a try was worth just three points, Kyle touched down for Ireland along with Bill McKay and William McKee. However, Ireland’s out-half said the final whistle was ‘the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard on a rugby field’ after his pass was intercepted by Dickie Guest for an English try which made the visitors sweat late on.

Such was the drama and tension of the one-point victory, the match report in the following Monday’s Irish Independent said an elderly Irish supporter was heard to say: “I’ll have a stroke if the match lasts much longer!”

You can see some footage of Jack in the number 10 jersey in the below British Pathé clips:


Jack spoke to Ulster Rugby TV last year about his time playing at the old Ravenhill, including Ireland’s famous Grand Slam-clinching victory over Wales back in 1948.

Ireland won 6-3 that day in Belfast thanks to unconverted tries from Barney Mullan and Jack Daly. Kyle said he never thought it would take 61 years for another Irish team to achieve a Grand Slam. “We were wined and dined and feted. We began to think we were maybe quite good!,” he quipped.

Kyle was singled out for praise in the Irish Examiner report of the Wales ’48 game. “Jack Kyle was once more the greatest single contributor to the Irish win. He did not pass to his centres very often, but got in some magnificent kicks to touch, the sort of kick that knocks the heart out of an opposing set of forwards,” it read.

“He gets full marks, too, for paving the way for the first Irish score, spotting in a split second that McKee, outside him, was covered by Welshmen and throwing a long pass to Barney Mullan for the left winger to burst his way over by the corner flag. If he had passed to McKee, the movement would have ended there and then.”

3. RECORD WIN OVER SCOTLAND AT LANSDOWNE (Ireland v Scotland, February 25, 1950)

Jack features in this Pathé News clip of Ireland’s first home international of 1950 at Lansdowne Road, shaking hands before the game with then President of Ireland, Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh.

Ireland ran out convincing 21-0 winners over Scotland on the day, with Kyle setting up winger Louis Crowe for the third and final try. The Irish side lost their final match of the Championship to Wales in Belfast a fortnight later, finishing third overall.

4. MAKING HIS MARK FOR 1950 LIONS (Tour to New Zealand and Australia)

Jack enhanced his reputation internationally, and particularly in the southern Hemisphere, with a starring role on the British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand and Australia in 1950.

He was one of nine Ireland internationals selected for the trip by boat. His ’48 Grand Slam-winning captain Karl Mullen led the tourists, while Noel Henderson, Michael Lane, George Norton, Tom Clifford, Jim McCarthy, Bill McKay and Jimmy Nelson.

Before the Test matches began in New Zealand, Kyle caught the eye with a three-try contribution in a 32-3 victory over West Coast. The then 24-year-old was heavily involved throughout the tour, playing in 20 games including the six Tests – the draw and three defeats to New Zealand and the two wins over Australia.

Such was the impression he made ‘Down Under’, a newspaper article noted following the tour: “Previously, every schoolboy in New Zealand wanted to be a forward, but now they all want to be Jack Kyles.”

You can watch Archives New Zealand footage below of the Lions’ arrival in 1950 and their 6-3 third Test loss to the All Blacks in Wellington, as well as their subsequent 14-9 victory over New Zealand Maori:

5. JACK FEATURES IN HODGSON COLLECTION CLIP (Ireland v England, February 10, 1951)

Jack can be seen seated at the front of the team line-up in this footage from the Ireland v England Five Nations match in 1951. Ireland claimed a hard-fought 3-0 victory on the day.

The film shown here, kindly released by the RTÉ Archives, was shot by Norman Hodgson (1905-1974). Born in Lenzie in Scotland, Norman married Marjorie Towers in 1932 and came to live in Skerries, Co. Dublin in the late 1930s.

He was an avid amateur film-maker who recorded many sporting and social highlights of Irish life in the late 1940s and 1950s. Norman’s films were deposited with the RTÉ Archives by his family and are known as the Hodgson Collection.

6. JACK’S THIRD TRY FOR IRELAND (Ireland v Wales, March 10, 1951)

Jack scored his third try for Ireland – it begins at 1 minutes and 15 seconds into the below clip – as the Karl Mullen-led visitors drew 3-all with Wales in Cardiff to reclaim the Championship crown in 1951.

The Sunday Independent dubbed the game ‘a tale of missed penalties’ for Ireland as they failed to capture the much-prized Triple Crown. The Irish place-kickers were described as ‘inept’ due to half-a-dozen misses, including William Millar’s kickable 15th minute conversion of Kyle’s try.

However, while Kyle was ‘masterly as usual in defence, but showing only the one glimpse of genius in attack’, the reporter hailed the Irish forwards as ‘magnificent’, owing to their ‘mastering of the Welsh everywhere except the scrums’.

7. JACK CAPTAINS IRELAND IN DUBLIN (Ireland v England, February 14, 1953)

Jack scored a try to mark his first occasion to captain Ireland, guiding the team to a 16-3 success over France in Belfast as they began the 1953 Five Nations in impressive style.

Three weeks later, on February 14, he had the honour of leading Ireland out at Lansdowne Road for their meeting with England which ended in a 9-all draw – Maurice Mortell scored a try (three points) and Noel Henderson kicked two penalties.

Kyle’s brilliant run had Jim McCarthy racing away for a try, but the referee ruled it out for a forward pass, while the Irish skipper also had one notable burst up the right wing during the second half.

The English newspapers gave praise to Kyle for his performance in a very fast-paced encounter. The Sunday Chronicle said: “The one player who stood out head and shoulders above everyone else for ideas, imagination and innate rugby skills was Jack Kyle, a consummate artist and easily the best outside (half) now playing.

“Two sizzling cuts-through early in the game might very well have led to Ireland scoring, but Kyle’s acceleration left his centres trailing.”

The Observer reporter wrote: “The Irish forwards were terrific. And behind them Kyle at stand-off played one of the greatest games ever of his great career, brilliant in the cut-through, cool and commanding in defence.”

Kyle captained Ireland six times over a twelve-month period between ’53 and ’54, with two wins over France and Scotland, three losses and a draw. You can also watch highlights of that six-try 26-8 triumph over Scotland below:

8. IRELAND CAP NUMBER 40 AND HIS FINAL TRY (Ireland v France, January 26, 1957)

France were Ireland’s bogey team at the time and it was hugely encouraging to see them defeat les Bleus 11-6 in this 1957 Championship opener at Lansdowne Road.

The below footage fails to capture the true quality of Jack’s seventh and final try in the green shirt (at the age of 31), but this passage from the Irish Press match report perfectly captures it: “His kicking in attack and defence constantly baffled the French, and he celebrated his 40th game for Ireland with ‘a Kyle special’, a try so brilliantly contrived that it was hard to realise that Jack is still not the boy who first delighted us.

“This was in the second half, a lineout around the ’25’ (22-metre line) on our right, Havelock Square corner. Ireland have it, (scrum half Andy) Mulligan quickly to Kyle who half goes left, then suddenly switches sharp to the right with all the speed of that long, familiar burst. Challenged by two desperate tacklers, he beats them to the dive: a perfect score that was echoed high above the wind and rain from the instant it seemed possible.”

9. JACK’S 46TH AND FINAL CAP FOR IRELAND (Ireland v Scotland, March 1, 1958)

Jack’s Ireland career came to end after his 46th appearance for the national team – a 12-6 victory over Scotland at Lansdowne Road that was sparked by two converted tries from winger Cecil Pedlow.

Kyle equalled the caps record of Ken Jones of Wales when helping Ireland to beat Australia in January 1958. He added cap number 45 against England before lining out one more time against the Scots. Combined with his six Tests for the Lions, he eclipsed world record holder Jean Prat of France (51 caps).

Saluting Kyle’s marathon Test career, the Irish Press called him ‘a prince of players and sportsmen’. Their ‘Rugger’ columnist wrote: “There will never be another player quite like him. He was unique. The game he adorned so well has seen few greater players and certainly no finer sportsman or gentleman on or off the field.

“The superb technique of this Belfast boy’s play, the quickness of his reactions, his hawk-eye for openings, speedy thrusts, precision kicking and wonderful covering off in defence were all top features of his play which were a joy to watch.

“He was the chief architect of Ireland’s Triple Crown triumphs of 1948 and 1949. The maestro was unique and the best loved of all rugby players. Cliff Morgan once said to me that Jack had only one fault – ‘he was too much of a gentleman’. His passing from the international scene fills us all with sorrow but the end had to come sometime.”


The 2011 RTÉ Sports Awards saw Brian O’Driscoll, an Irish rugby great of the professional era, present Jack – a legendary figure of the amateur days – with the RTÉ/Irish Sports Council Hall of Fame award.

O’Driscoll said: “Just hearing people talking about him and his style and his talent…I think it’s clear as daylight that he’s synonymous with Irish rugby culture in general.

“I think it was a very poignant moment for me (meeting him after the 2009 Grand Slam win), and hopefully one for Jack. He had some lovely words to say to me, congratulating us on taking over and relieving some of the pressure.”

Fellow former Ireland captain Donal Lenihan added: “The fact that his legacy is still there 60 years after what he did playing in an Irish jersey just says everything about him.

“He’s just this captivating character and he has this aura about him. To listen to him speak, he has this infectious enthusiasm which I think is what probably endears him to everybody who meets him.”

Paying tribute at the time, Ireland and Lions great Willie John McBride commented: “It’s a pity really that we don’t have enough television of him today, because I’ve seen a few clips of him and he was just an outstanding player.

“I don’t know if an ‘icon’ is higher than a ‘legend’, but Jack Kyle would be an icon. He’s just a wonderful man, a caring man. When you think of a gentleman, Jack Kyle is a gentleman.”

The Belfast native made his official Ireland debut against France in 1947 and went on to make 46 appearances, playing a pivotal role in the Irish side at the time.

He helped Ireland to their first ever Grand Slam win in 1948, two Triple Crowns (1948 and 1949) and a further Five Nations Championship in 1951. RTÉ put together the following clip to pay tribute to him: