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JPR Williams: Wales and British and Irish Lions legend dies aged 74

Wales and British and Irish Lions rugby legend JPR Williams has died at the age of 74.

JPR Williams: Wales and British and Irish Lions legend dies aged 74
JPR Williams: Wales and British and Irish Lions legend dies aged 74

The former London Welsh, Bridgend and Barbarians full-back was synonymous with Wales and the Lions’ glories of the 1970s.

Williams captained Wales and Bridgend, winning 55 caps for his country.

During historic triumphant Lions tours to New Zealand in 1971 and 1974 in South Africa, Williams accumulated eight Test caps.

A statement from the Williams family said: “JPR died peacefully today at the University Hospital of Wales surrounded by his loving wife and four children, after a short illness, bravely battling bacterial meningitis.

“The family request privacy at this difficult time.”

Williams won three Five Nations Grand Slams – in 1971, 1976, and 1978. He stepped away from international rugby in 1981, but continued to play rugby on occasion before finally retiring in 2003.

Williams’ death was announced by Bridgend Ravens – formerly known as Bridgend – on social media.

“Bridgend Ravens are devastated to announce the passing of JPR Williams,” they said.

“One of Bridgend’s most decorated-players and an icon of world rugby, JPR served the club most recently as club president. Our thoughts are with JPR’s family and friends at this sad time.”

Former Wales captain Jonathan Davies described Williams as an “absolute legend”.

“Not many people can go by their initials and he was known as JPR,” he told BBC 5 Live Sport.

“I remember watching him growing up. He was an absolute rock in defence with the tackles he made.

“If you wanted anybody behind you at full-back, I could not think of anybody better.

“When he was with the 1974 Lions in South Africa, when the fights broke out, he kept running in from full-back to punch the forwards. He was perhaps the most competitive bloke I have ever come across.

“He was ferociously competitive. It is very sad, he was just a great rugby player and an incredible character.

“Whenever you mention who were the greatest full-backs in any era, you hear about the greats like Serge Blanco and Christian Cullen, JPR is always in the mix.”

The British and Irish Lions called Williams “one of the greatest ever” players to wear their shirt and “a man who inspired so many”.

Williams was involved in what is considered by many to be rugby’s greatest ever try, which was scored by Sir Gareth Edwards for the Barbarians against New Zealand in Cardiff in 1973.

The Barbarians called Williams “one of rugby’s greats” and said he “would always have a special place in the hearts and history of our club”.

London Welsh, where Williams played for eight years, said his death was a “huge loss to all who knew and loved him”.

Former Wales and Lions flanker John Taylor was a London Welsh team-mate of Williams and was also his best man.

“He was amazing,” Taylor told BBC 5 Live Sport.

“People remember him as a great player and know him as such a brave man and he was as tough as old boots, and then you look at all his achievements.

“He actually revolutionised the idea of how a full-back should play. He was unbelievable and the original attacking full-back.

“London Welsh was the ideal place for him to be because we had a relatively small side and played attacking rugby from everywhere. He was the perfect man for us.”

World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, called Williams “one of the greatest players the game has ever seen”.

After retiring from rugby, Williams focused on his career as an orthopaedic surgeon.

Former Wales and Lions centre Jamie Roberts, who also completed a medical degree, said Williams was an icon for Wales, the Lions and the Barbarians, adding he was “and inspiration and role model for the rugby-medical fraternity”.

‘The man who feared nothing’

New Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) president Terry Cobner played with Williams in the 1976 and 1978 Grand Slam campaigns, as well as the 1977 Triple Crown season.

“The world of rugby has lost one of its greatest players of all time, a man who revolutionised full-back play,” said Cobner.

“He was the defensive rock in every team in which he played, the counter-attacking inspiration and the man who feared nothing and never saw a lost cause. We all thought he was ‘Mr Indestructible’.

“Although he played during the amateur era, he was thoroughly professional in his sporting outlook and always drove standards in training and on the field. With JPR in your side, there was always a chance of winning anything.

“Welsh rugby will remember him as one of our greatest players of all time – those 55 caps, three Grand Slams and six Triple Crowns prove that.

“He also played in all eight Tests in New Zealand and South Africa on arguably the two greatest tours undertaken by the Lions, in 1971 and 1974.

“It was his drop goal from near half-way that enabled the 1971 Lions to draw the fourth Test and win the series 2-1 against the mighty All Blacks – the only series victory by the Lions on New Zealand soil.

“A star in the making from his early school days at Bridgend Grammar, then at Millfield, he went on to thrill crowds at both London Welsh and Bridgend on the club scene. He was ‘box office’ wherever he went.

“This is a terrible loss for our game, but obviously an even worse loss for his wife Scilla and their children. The thoughts of the whole Welsh rugby family are with them at this difficult time.”


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