Kyle Snr’s frosty reaction

Ask any British or Irish player and they'll tell you that selection for the Lions is the pinnacle of a rugby career. [more]

Kyle Snr’s frosty reaction

Ask any British or Irish player and they’ll tell you that selection for the Lions is the pinnacle of a rugby career.

It generally always has been and, unless rugby witnesses a sea change like none other seen before, it always will be.

When men young and old talk of the moment they learnt they would first become a Lion, they do so with great pride.

Their descriptions of the second they went from a club player or international to a member of the world’s most-famous touring team are usually accompanied by a beaming smile and no shortage of passion.

It’s usually the same with family and friends and with wives and partners. Most recognise the huge sense of achievement attached to such a selection.

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Even in bygone eras of lengthy tours spanning far longer than the six-weeks of current Lions adventures, loved ones left at home were pretty good at not putting a dampener on the honour.

But it’s not always the case. There is the odd exception. Take Jack Kyle for example. One of the greatest fly-halves the game has ever seen and among the most famous Irishmen ever to wear Lions colours.

Kyle had guided his country to a first-ever Grand Slam in 1948 and was duly selected for the 1950 Lions tour of Australia and New Zealand. Understandably, the then 24-year-old was delighted to receive the news but the same couldn’t be said about his father’s initial reaction.

Kyle was a medical student at Queen’s University in Belfast at a time when rugby offered no reward for a player’s commitment to the cause other than simple satisfaction.

The young prodigy had long been told of the importance of an education and a sustainable career and he was duly reminded of that fact when he received the ultimate call up.

“My father, who was also John Wilson Kyle like me, was reading the Belfast Telegraph when he noticed a report saying, ‘the following have been selected…’ and there was my name,” Kyle is quoted as saying in Once were Lions by Jeff Connor and Martin Hannan.

“In those days there was absolutely no question of any money or benefits accruing from playing rugby. My dad frequently said to me, ‘You’re not going to earn your living from rugby, son, you had better pass your exams’.

“When he read of my selection, fortunately I wasn’t in the house. He read out the report and noted the fact that I would be away for six months and miss a full term, and then turned to my brother Eric and said, ‘Does that brother of yours ever intend to qualify?’”

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Jack Kyle was studying medicine at the time of his Lions selection

Despite the initial negative response from his father, Kyle never considered turning down the opportunity. He knew his future lay in medicine but there was no doubt where the summer of 1950 should be spent.

It was a clearly a good decision. The great man enhanced his reputation on tour and was named one of the five players of the year by the New Zealand Rugby Almanac. He would only tour once with the Lions yet he still appears in the Greatest Lions XVs of many of the older generation of supporters despite the huge talents of men such as Barry John and Phil Bennett who have since followed in his illustrious footsteps.

But although he listened to his heart and went with the Lions 60 years ago, Kyle never lost sight of the importance of his studies. He even attempted to continue his learning while on tour and always saw his career as of great importance.

For Kyle, they were the two were perfect companions. Rugby, and the Lions in particular, gave him so much but so did his profession.

“I actually did take a few books and hoped to get advice from the other doctors on tour like Karl Mullen, but I can’t remember doing much reading and we only had one session where Karl tried to teach me a bit about midwifery and gynaecology,” added Kyle.

“The fact that we had a career was more important than rugby. If you had a bad game and had an exam coming up afterwards, it soon got your mind off the game and on to the important stuff.

“In today’s professional world there would be a video analyst and a coach discussing your game and where you went wrong. The most we ever got if we lost was, ‘Hard luck, chaps, you did your best’.

“I have made and kept many friends through rugby and there’s no doubt being a Lion enriched my life tremendously and opened doors for me. To give you an example – I worked in Indonesia as a surgeon from 1962 to 1964 and my wife and I went up to Hong Kong for a holiday and were staying at the Repulse Bay Hotel.

“We had just got in and were unpacking and the phone rang. It was a guy from the local rugby club inviting me along to their meeting that night. I said, ‘How did anyone know I was in Hong Kong?’ as I was pretty sure no one knew we were going there. He said, ‘The customs officer at the airport is a rugby man and spotted your name on your passport’.

“Those chaps were wonderful to us for the whole holiday, taking us for meals and arranging cars for us. That’s the kind of thing that has happened to Lions over the years.”

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