JPR Williams: Former Wales and Lions full-back dies aged 74

JPR Williams, one of rugby union’s all-time greats who represented Wales and the British and Irish Lions with distinction, has died at the age of 74.
JPR Williams in the red of Wales while playing against England in 1979 at Cardiff Arms Park. Wales won 27-3.  (Photo by Colorsport/Shutterstock)JPR Williams in the red of Wales while playing against England in 1979 at Cardiff Arms Park. Wales won 27-3.  (Photo by Colorsport/Shutterstock)
JPR Williams in the red of Wales while playing against England in 1979 at Cardiff Arms Park. Wales won 27-3. (Photo by Colorsport/Shutterstock)

The full-back, a fearless player known for his aggressive and attacking style, won 55 Wales caps and started all eight Tests on victorious Lions tours to New Zealand in 1971 and South Africa three years later. He was revered among fellow Wales greats like Sir Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett and Gerald Davies, and regarded as one of the sport’s finest players.

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.”

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Bridgend Ravens, a club that Williams served as a player and club president, paid tribute.

“Bridgend Ravens are devastated to announce the passing of JPR Williams,” the club said in a statement on their website. “An icon of the world game, John Peter Rhys Williams served Bridgend Ravens as a player and most recently as club president.

“He was capped 55 times for Wales and made eight Test appearances for the British and Irish Lions.

“Highlights of his illustrious career included winning two Schweppes Cup titles with Bridgend in 1979 and 1980, and three (Five Nations) Grand Slams in 1971, 1976 and 1978 for Wales.

“Following his retirement from the game, JPR became a key figure of the club’s administrative team, serving as Bridgend Ravens club president – a role he held until his passing.

“JPR’s passing leaves a huge void at the club, and our thoughts are with his friends and family at this sad time.”

Distinctive in style, with his socks around his ankles and sporting mutton chop sideburns, Williams mixed great skill with remarkable bravery. During Bridgend’s game against the 1978 touring All Blacks he was stamped on by New Zealand prop John Ashworth and required 30 stitches. His father Peter, who was a doctor, sewed up his son’s face and Williams then rejoined the match.

In an age when rugby was still amateur, Williams also pursued a career in medicine and became an orthopaedic surgeon and was a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

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Williams made his Wales debut against Scotland in 1969, with his final Test match appearance coming against the same opponents at Murrayfield 12 years later.

A star performer during Welsh rugby's 1970s golden era, he was a fearless defender in addition to his attacking panache.

Williams was a key part of the Lions team that recorded a 2-1 series triumph over New Zealand in 1971 - it is a feat that no Lions team has repeated - dropping a goal in the fourth Test that ended 14-14 and ensured a series success.

He was equally as prominent on the 1974 South Africa tour, which the Lions took with three wins and a draw, showcasing his quality throughout.

Williams also starred for the Barbarians in their unforgettable 23-11 victory over New Zealand in 1973, touching down in a game chiefly remembered for Edwards' spectacular touchdown that completed a breathtaking length-of-the-field move.

Williams' club career included a memorable eight-year stint at London Welsh, when the Exiles were a major force in British rugby.

"All at London Welsh RFC are deeply saddened by the news this evening that rugby legend JPR Williams has passed away," the club said.

"Our thoughts and condolences go out to his friends, colleagues and family. A huge loss to all who knew and loved him."

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The British & Irish Lions also paid tribute with a statement. “One of the greatest ever Lions,” it said. “A man who inspired so many. It is with huge sadness to learn that JPR Williams has passed away at the age of 74. All our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

World Rugby, the game’s governing body, said: “One of the greatest players the game has ever seen. JPR Williams leaves behind an incredible legacy. All our thoughts are with his family and friends.”



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