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The greatest full-backs of all time: Tom Kiernan

Tom Kiernan of Ireland Rugby World

Tom Kiernan was thrust into the Ireland senior side straight from Irish Universities. The full-back went on to break records, and assert himself as one of the greatest of all time


Major teams: University College Cork, Cork Constitution, Munster
Country: Ireland
Test span: 1960-73
Ireland caps: 54 (54 starts)
Lions caps: 5 (5 starts)
Test points: 193 (2T, 27C, 42P, 2DG)

Barely into his twenties, Kiernan was picked to face the English in London and played with such assurance and swift thought that he won over a nation. He didn’t have searing pace but had every other skill in his arsenal, could scan play from the back brilliantly and could kick goals with the best of them.

By the time he quit in 1973, he had every Irish record going – most caps (54), most points (158) and most games as captain (24). As a Lion he twice toured South Africa. In 1962 he was in and out like a kitchen drawer thanks to injury, but in 1968 he was their bold captain – despite having initially declined to tour due to his job as an accountant. In the first Test he kicked 17 points and by the end he had scored 35 of the Lions’ Test points – another record.

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A brilliant covering defender, Kiernan had superb hands and could kick with either foot. Ray McLoughlin, who preceded him as Ireland captain, says he can’t recall ever seeing him drop a ball. Perhaps Kiernan’s was a charmed life. He helped Ireland to their first win over South Africa with a mishit kick that crept over the bar, making it 9-6 in 1965.

At the end of his reign, he led Ireland to a 10-0 draw with New Zealand in Dublin – still Ireland’s best result against the All Blacks. Five years later he coached Munster to a 12-0 defeat of the All Blacks in Limerick, a match so famous they made a West End show about it. His playing days were done but Kiernan was still producing magic.

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