Wales and British Lions legend Williams dies aged 74

rugby08 January 2024 21:29| © AFP
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JPR Williams © Gallo Images

John Peter Rhys Williams – who died aged 74 on Monday – was one of Wales' most celebrated players during his country's 1970s golden era.

Better known as JPR, the full-back, adorned with trademark sideburns and socks round his ankles, was a terrifying sight for his opponents as he bore down on them with or without the ball.

Indeed so bone-crunching were his tackles that on the 1971 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand he was rested from some training sessions as he had a tendency to injure his own teammates.

Yet, he would go on to become a surgeon later in life and it was a career in the medical profession that allowed his rugby career to flourish.

"My father was a big influence on me," Williams told The Guardian in 2008.

"He said, "Professional sport is not for you."

"He wanted me to go to medical school – and if you were a good rugby player in those days then you had a very good chance of getting in to one of the London teaching hospitals – and I could do that and keep up the rugby."

Lovers of the oval ball were blessed with the glittering career that followed.

Alongside the likes of Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennett, Williams shone in 55 caps for his country, winning three Grand Slams in the then Five Nations Championship.

He also represented Bridgend, London Welsh and the Barbarians.

Yet, arguably his greatest achievements came in the collective British and Irish effort of two Lions tours.

He dropped the decisive goal the only time the Lions have beaten the All Blacks in a test series.

Three years later he was part of "The Invincibles", who won 21 of 22 matches on a brutal tour of South Africa on the 1974 tour.

"The Lions trips were the pinnacle, they were marvellous," he told the Daily Telegraph.

"Just imagine, I was a young sports mad medical student and I got to go on a four-month rugby tour when I could train or play every day, and every bit of food and drink was paid for."


The tour of South Africa is remembered for the steeliness of the Lions – captain Willie John McBride had come up with the "99 call" which meant if one of the Lions got into trouble the others would go to his aid.

JPR did not hesitate when in the Third test – the Lions having won the first two – and things looking dark for his side, he took matters into his own hands.

"It was the first-half and we were under a lot of pressure, and I'm not particularly proud of it now, but I remember sprinting about 40 yards to hit their biggest guy in the second row, Johnnes van Heerden," Williams recounted to The Independent in 2009.

"I met him on the train about three or four years ago when South Africa were playing Wales and he was coming down to present the jerseys to the South Africans, and he paid me a great compliment, he said it was the best punch he'd ever had in his life."

Also a talented tennis player and cricketer, Williams never really lost the rugby bug, playing on till he was 54 ending his playing days with village side Tondu.

Hanging up the boots though did not mean an end to taking on challenges and in 2006 he and other Welsh rugby luminaries climbed all 5 895m (19 340ft) of Mount Kilimanjaro for charity.