Barry John: Rugby world and beyond pay tribute to ‘The King’

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Gareth Edwards, Willie John McBride, and Barry John

Figures from the rugby world and beyond have come together to pay tribute to Barry John following the British & Irish Lions star’s death aged 79.

John, nicknamed “The King” due to his brilliance from fly-half during the 1971 Tour of New Zealand, was considered one of the game’s greatest-ever players.

He was influential when the Lions beat the All Blacks 2-1 in a historic Tour and formed a legendary half-back partnership with fellow Welshman Sir Gareth Edwards.

Obituary: Barry John

Speaking to BBC Radio Wales Breakfast, Edwards said: “He was a one-off, no doubt about that.

“He was carefree but had such vision when it came to playing the game. Even under the most immense pressure he would just stand there, look up and do something unbelievable.

“He was friendly and always wanted to chat, but he was also lethal on the rugby field when he decided to do something.”

Along with his five appearances for The Lions across the 1968 and 1971 Tours, he earned 25 caps for Wales in a hugely successful period for the national side, winning three Five Nations, a Grand Slam and two Triple Crowns.

He called time on his career aged just 27 but provided inspiration for many who have gone on to wear the famous Wales or Lions shirts.

Former Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton said: “What he contributed to the game, even now, 50 years later, still transcends rugby across the world and he hasn’t picked up a ball for 50 years.

“They are heroes for so many people.  The legacy that they’ve left Welsh rugby means when you pick up that shirt that you’re following in their footsteps.”

His outlandish talent brought many new eyes to the sport, and a year before he retired, he finished third in the 1971 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, pipped only by Princess Anne and George Best.

Much like Best, he was not just adored on the field but loved off it with many stating he was rugby’s first star.


Along with his established international career, he brought joy to Cefneithin, Llanelli, Cardiff and Barbarians fans across the country.


Former players and journalists from across rugby also shared their memories of one of Wales’s greatest athletes.

ITV’s Chris Skudder said: “He was so gifted as a fly-half, it was said he could side-step a player in a telephone box.

“There was only one Barry John.”


Welsh Rugby Union’s president Terry Cobner added to the tributes, he said: “To be crowned ‘The King’ in New Zealand when every back row forward in both the North and South Islands is trying to take your head off is quite some accolade.”.
“For me, he has got to be right up there among the greatest outside halves who have ever played the game – probably the greatest.

“He was a glider, rather than a sidestepper, who had a subtle change of pace and direction. Coming on top of the recent deaths of Brian Price and JPR Williams, this is another huge blow for Welsh rugby.

“After what he did for Wales and the Lions in 1971, those of us who followed him into both teams always felt we had huge shoes to fill. He was and will remain a legend of our game.”

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