Barry John: Lions legend dies aged 79

Barry John, known simply as ‘The King’, has passed away peacefully at the age of 79. [more]

Barry John: Lions legend dies aged 79

Barry John, known simply as ‘The King’, has passed away peacefully at the age of 79.

One of the most naturally gifted players of his or any generation, the fly-half transcended the sport with his performances for Wales and The British & Irish Lions in the 1960s and early 70s.

John’s first Tour in 1968 ended 15 minutes into the first Test against South Africa when he went off with a collarbone injury.

His second, to New Zealand in 1971, is the stuff of legend – he broke records, engineered a series win and earned that regal nickname, the highest form of praise from the Kiwi press.

A family statement read: “Barry John died peacefully today at the University Hospital of Wales surrounded by his loving wife and four children.

“He was a loving Dadcu [grandfather] to 11 grandchildren and a much-loved brother.”

Born in the Carmarthenshire coalfields in 1945, he made his top-flight debut as a teenager for Llanelli in a match against Moseley.

John’s first taste of international rugby was a chastening one. Preferred to 1966 Lions captain David Watkins, he tasted an 11-4 defeat to the touring Wallabies on Wales debut.

It was the briefest of blemishes as John soon carved out a reputation as a masterful kicker, joining Cardiff in 1967 where a legendary half-back pairing with Gareth Edwards was born.

All of John’s five Lions appearances and 23 Wales caps would come alongside Edwards and they shared a catchphrase: ‘You throw it, I’ll catch it!’

Edwards said of John in 1978: “He had this marvellous easiness in the mind, reducing problems to their simplest form, backing his own talent all the time.”

John earned selection for the 1968 Tour, playing in three matches against district teams but his trip was cut short after an injury in the first Test.

“I knew as soon as Jan Ellis tackled me that something was wrong, I felt a zing right across my body,” said John, who broke his collarbone upon landing on the hard ground.

Happier times certainly came in 1971 as John was at his brilliant best in Wales’ Five Nations Championship triumph and first Grand Slam since 1952.

Later that year, John got a free run at Tour for the first time and the results spoke for themselves.

He scored 30 of the Lions’ 48 points over the four Tests and a record 191 points across 17 matches on the Tour.

John was at his transcendent best in the first Test, scoring six points in a dogged 9-3 win and tormenting the All Blacks with his kicking. His ten points would prove instrumental in the 13-3 win in the third Test that paved the way for the series win, confirmed with a draw in the fourth.

“When I looked around the dressing room and saw who was hanging their jerseys up, I thought ‘Wow, this group here,’” remembered John, joined in the team by the likes of Edwards, Gerald Davies and Willie John McBride.

“Our set-up was held in such high esteem. It was just a fantastic Tour to be a part of and the memories remain treasured to this day.”

John retired in the following year, aged 27 and at the peak of his powers, citing the weight of expectation as well as the pressures of fame as the reasons for his decision.

Alongside JPR Williams, who passed away aged 74 last month, he was one of the inaugural inductees of the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 1997.

The British & Irish Lions send sincere condolences to all of John’s family and friends.

 

Previous story Facing the Lions: Leali’ifano on his Wallaby debut
Next story Barry John: Rugby world and beyond pay tribute to ‘The King’
Download