Wales rugby legend JPR Williams dies aged 74 | UK News

Wales and British and Irish Lions rugby legend JPR Williams has died aged 74, his former club has announced.

He played a big part in Wales’ success in the 1970s – helping them to three Grand Slams – and featured on the triumphant Lions tours to New Zealand in 1971 and 1974 in South Africa.

The former fullback, instantly recognisable with his low socks and long sideburns, also played for Bridgend, London Welsh and the Barbarians.

It was while playing for the Barbarians in 1973 against New Zealand that he was involved in what is widely regarded as the “greatest try ever scored” – a stunning 22-second blitz from one end of the field to another ending in a try by Gareth Edwards.

“Bridgend Ravens are devastated to announce the passing of JPR Williams,” the club said in a statement.

“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.”

Rugby legend JPR Williams waves as he stands in the Royal Box after being introduced on Centre Court on day six of the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Saturday, July 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Rugby legend JPR Williams, pictured in July last year. Pic: AP

Welsh International full back JPR Williams, who has become their mosted capped player with 54 caps. Williams first played for the national side in 1969.

The British and Irish Lions described Williams as “one of the greatest ever Lions”.

“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. Rest in Peace,” they wrote in a post on X.

Irish Rugby said Williams was a “true legend of the game”.

“A joy to watch on the field and a gentleman off it. Rest in peace, JPR Williams. Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family,” they said in a post on X.

Rugby star and surgeon

Born John Peter Rhys Williams in Bridgend, South Wales, in 1949, JPR as he would later become known, was the son of two GPs.

He initially shared his time as a schoolboy between rugby and tennis – at one point winning a British junior title at Wimbledon in 1966.

It was his decision to pursue a career in medicine that would eventually lead JPR to choose rugby over tennis – because the sport was amateur at the time and so allowed him to continue his education and train at the same time.

British Lions winger J.P.R. Williams gets his foot to the ball despite the efforts of Springbok Chris Pope in the test match at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, June 22, 1974. (AP Photo)
JPR Williams playing for the British and Irish Lions against South Africa in 1974. Pic: AP

He was awarded his first of 55 caps for Wales against Scotland in 1969 – at the start of what would be Wales’s second golden era of rugby.

With players like Edwards, Barry John, and Phil Bennett, Wales dominated much of the 1970s, with Williams helping the side to Grand Slam wins in 1971, 1976, and 1978.

Welsh rugby legends Gareth Edwards (left) and JPR Williams in the gardens of Buckingham Palace where they attended a Royal garden party to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme.
Welsh rugby legends Gareth Edwards (left) and JPR Williams in 2006

He was also a member of six Triple Crown-winning teams throughout the period and won eight caps for the Lions.

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At the same time, Williams continued his career in medicine, qualifying as a physician in 1973.

JPR, who was awarded an MBE for services to rugby in 1977, retired from international rugby in 1981 to focus on his work as an orthopaedic surgeon.

JPR Williams, the Welsh international rugby star, Tommy Smith, the Liverpool soccer player, and tennis star Roger Taylor at Buckingham Palace after receiving their MBE s.
JPR Williams (left) was awarded an MBE in 1977

However, he continued to play for club side Bridgend through the 1980s and 1990s, before joining Tondu where he remained until retiring in 2003.

Speaking about his mixing work and rugby, he told WalesOnline in 2019: “I was happy with my career as a surgeon and happy with my experiences in rugby.

“I was lucky to play for Wales when I did. I was surrounded by great players, who undoubtedly helped me become the player I was. And I enjoyed my club rugby, too.”