Wales v Ireland, Six Nations Championship, March 21
Kyle ready to pass Grand Slam torch
March 20, 2009
Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland breaks clear of the tackle of Lionel Beauxis of France to score his team's second try. Ireland v France, Six Nations, Croke Park, Feb 7 2009
Brian O'Driscoll will be out to inspire Ireland to glory in Cardiff © Getty Images

Should Brian O'Driscoll's Ireland defeat Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday they will enter into a pantheon of Irish legends alongside the 1948 Five Nations side, the only one to have previously won a Grand Slam.

The times have changed since Jackie Kyle, the fly-half of the 1948 team and arguably the greatest Irish player of them all, inspired Ireland to victory over Wales in Belfast. Kyle and his team-mates, led by hooker Karl Mullen, were unfancied at the start of the tournament but pulled through after an opening win over France.

Kyle now sees little similarity between the game that he enjoyed as an amateur and the high-pressure, professional environment that Ireland will embrace in Cardiff.

"We played for the enjoyment of the game and the honour of representing your province or country," he said "Expenses and travel were paid at the highest level but that was it. The greatest thing we took from the sport was friendship. Many of my friends today are old rugby friends. That's one of the important changes, in my day there was a very pleasant camaraderie and none of us were in it for money.

"Back then it was about enjoyment, honour and glory. Maybe the money has changed that a little bit. One of my most vivid memories from 1948 was our two-day trip to Paris for when we played France on New Year's Day. That was a big occasion for those of us who had hardly ever set foot outside of Ireland and the journey itself was an experience. People often ask us if our lives changed after we won the Grand Slam but they didn't at all.

"In the professional era it may be hard to believe but when we were playing the emphasis was not on our rugby. Rugby was a smaller part of our lives, and a very pleasant part, but our main focus was our careers. Rugby wouldn't support us in any way. After the Grand Slam we went back to our careers or to university. Okay we'd won a Grand Slam but that didn't alter our lives."

Kyle spent 34 years as a consultant surgeon in Chingola, Zambia following his retirement from playing, and would be overjoyed to see the class of 2009 end Ireland's long wait for a clean sweep.

"When we won, it was the first time that the pitch was totally invaded by spectators. They poured on," he said. "Of course at the time we didn't realise the significance of what we'd achieved because we didn't know it would be so long until Ireland won another."

"All the survivors are in touch. We remain very good friends. The memory of '48 binds us now. We've had the pleasure of being that team for so long that we'd like to see these chaps, who have done so well with their Triple Crowns, go that step further. It would be a wonderful memory for them. Those of us who are left would be more than happy for another Irish side win the Grand Slam. We've dined out on this for a long time so it's time to pass it on."

It will fall to Brian O'Driscoll, who will one day surely be remembered in the same breath as Kyle and the legendary Mike Gibson, to ignite his side's desire to win. The Leinster centre is focused on the game and has not paid any heed to the hype surrounding the occasion, his attitude reflecting the changes in rugby noted by Kyle.

"There is no need to make the situation any bigger than it is," he said. "I've been fortunate to play against Wales a lot of times. I've come out on the right result a few times and lost a few. We will enjoy the situation. You are a professional rugby player to be involved in moments like this, those pressurised situations, a great atmosphere in one of the best stadiums in the world.

"It would mean a lot. It would be a great achievement, but words aren't worth a huge amount at the moment. We will try and do all our chatting tomorrow, through the 80 minutes. It is a case of trying to beat another quality Test team. Our sole focus is on winning the game."

And head coach Kidney wants his side to seize their place in Irish sporting history - and enjoy doing it. "We were always going to play Wales last match but to have so much involved on it adds a little bit of spice," he said.

"It's a huge privilege to be here. These are the occasions you are in sport for. You just want to enjoy it and that is what everyone must do. We have given ourselves a chance. We are away from home against the champions in their own backyard. It doesn't come any tougher than that.

"I'm delighted for the players, they've worked really hard and I know they are going to give their all. I've always enjoyed watching Wales play ever since I first saw them play on a black and white television. I've been put in a situation now where I have a job to do, the lads have a job to do and we will go about our business."


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