JPR Williams: Lions legend dies aged 74

JPR Williams, one of the greatest players to wear the British & Irish Lions jersey, has died at the age of 74. [more]

JPR Williams: Lions legend dies aged 74

JPR Williams, one of the greatest players to wear the British & Irish Lions jersey, has died at the age of 74.

The full-back was an integral part of Wales’ success in the 1970s and translated that form into another iconic red shirt, starring on the 1971 and 1974 Tours.

In all, he featured in eight Tests for the Lions and his drop goal to help seal victory in New Zealand in 1971 remains etched in folklore.

The Bridgend-born legend’s passing was announced by his hometown club, now Bridgend Ravens, who he represented with distinction over two spells.

“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.”

Williams made his international bow aged just 19 in 1969 and went on to enjoy a remarkable career for Wales, helping his country win Five Nations Grand Slams in 1971, 1976 and 1978.

His form in the first of those helped him win selection for his maiden Lions Tour and his impact against the All Blacks secured his status in the history books.

The final Test arrived with the tourists leading 2-1 and needing to avoid defeat at Eden Park to become the first Lions side to beat New Zealand in a series.

The match was poised on a knife-edge heading towards the closing stages, locked at 11-11, when Williams kicked what would turn out to be the only drop goal of his international career – one he had seen coming.

“It was the end of a long Tour and at that stage a lot of the guys were a little homesick,” he later recalled.

“On the bus going to the game I thought I would try to make them all laugh. I said I would drop a goal. Obviously no-one believed me.

“I had been practising with Bob Hiller and Barry John and when the drop goal came we were going backwards at the time.

“David Duckham passed the ball to Barry, he gave it to me and I just hit it. As soon as I hit it I knew it was going over.”

The All Blacks went on to level the match but could not find a way through in the closing stages and a 14-14 draw was enough for the Lions’ class of ’71 to do what no side has done before or since.

David Duckham, also a key part of the history-making side, said in a 2017 interview: “The ball was never going to go anywhere else except for through the middle of those posts.

“Under pressure, he absolutely nailed it. We all just hugged him. In those days celebrations after points were very muted and restrained, but my goodness we could have all kissed him!

“That was the genius of a great player.”

Williams stayed in New Zealand for three months after the victorious Tour to continue his medical training and, three years later, retained his place in the No.15 jersey, starting all four Tests on the famous ‘Invincibles’ Tour of South Africa.

The tourists won 21 of their 22 matches, including three of the four Tests, with the other ending in a draw, on a brutal tour which saw Williams immortalised for his role in the famous ’99 call’.

The Welshman ran half the pitch to launch himself at giant lock Moaner van Heerden – showing the physical South African side that the Lions would not be bullied.

Williams continued to redefine the role of a full-back as the decade went on and was involved in ‘the greatest try ever scored’, finished by Gareth Edwards, while playing for the Barbarians against New Zealand in 1973.

He never lost against England in 10 matches in a Wales shirt, scoring five in the process, and was among the inaugural inductees to the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 1997.

Wales legend Jonathan Davies was among the many current and former players to pay tribute, saying: “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 & Irish Lions send sincere condolences to Williams’ wife, Cilla, their four children and all of his family and friends.

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