Another legendary figure from the 1970s in Welsh rugby has passed away, as JPR Williams has died at 74 years old.
The defender, who represented his country 55 times and also played eight Test matches for the British & Irish Lions, was a key player for the Welsh team that achieved three grand slam victories in the Five Nations tournament over an eight-year period from 1971 to 1978.
After 50 years, the initials JPR remain synonymous with global rugby, representing John Peter Rhys. While dedicated fans may have known this, the general public recognized him more for his distinctive sideburns, rolled-down socks, and straightforward playing style. This style perfectly complemented the talents of his esteemed teammates Barry John, Gareth Edwards, and Phil Bennett.
Williams led the Wales team five times and was recognized for revolutionizing the perception of full-backs. He was known for his strength, directness, dedication, and athleticism. At only 19 years old, he received his first cap for Wales in 1969 and two years later, he was selected as the starting full-back for the Lions Test in New Zealand. He played in all of the Lions’ Tests during their monumental series win, including scoring a crucial long-range goal in the fourth and final Test, which resulted in a 14-14 tie.
In 1974, Williams also traveled to South Africa. However, in 1977 he did not join the tour to New Zealand because he was advised to focus on his second career as an orthopaedic surgeon. He played for both London Welsh and Bridgend clubs, and famously received a face stamp from All Black player John Ashworth in 1978. Although he needed 30 stitches on his cheek, which were administered by his father on the sidelines, Williams returned to the game and finished playing. One of his notable achievements was his impressive record against England. In all 10 Tests against them while playing for Wales, he never lost and scored five tries.
In 1981, Williams decided to end his career in international rugby and focus on his profession as a surgeon. However, he remained a player for Tondu for a considerable amount of time. In addition to his skills in rugby, he excelled in tennis during his younger years, even winning the 1966 British junior title at Wimbledon by defeating David Lloyd in the final match. He eventually chose to pursue a career in orthopaedic surgery and gave up tennis to play amateur rugby, which allowed him to further his medical career.
Tributes to the man universally known as JPR – to differentiate him from his Wales and Lions teammate JJ Williams – were led by his former club. “Bridgend Ravens are devastated to announce the passing of JPR Williams,” the club said in a statement on social media. “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.”
The Barbarians, for whom he played in the renowned 1973 match against New Zealand in Cardiff, referred to him as “a man who will forever hold a special spot in the hearts and legacy of our team.” His former Lions captain Bill Beaumont, currently chairman of World Rugby, also offered a heartfelt tribute. “We have said goodbye to a true titan of the sport. A legend for Wales and the Lions during an extraordinary period for Welsh rugby.”
The Williams family released a statement announcing that JPR passed away peacefully at University Hospital of Wales, with his wife and four children by his side. He had been battling bacterial meningitis for a brief period of time. The family asks for privacy during this challenging time.