RENOWNED Welsh rugby icon Barry John, distinguished fly-half and pivotal figure in the sport’s history, peacefully passed away at the age of 79 in the University Hospital of Wales on Sunday. Surrounded by his devoted wife and four children, he left behind a legacy that extends beyond the rugby field.
In a poignant family statement, it was revealed that Barry John, affectionately known as Dadcu (grandfather) to his 11 grandchildren, was a much-loved brother. His remarkable career as a rugby union fly-half saw him secure three Five Nations titles, a Grand Slam, and two Triple Crowns. Additionally, he played a crucial role in five Tests for the British and Irish Lions during their 1968 and 1971 tours.
New Zealand journalists bestowed upon him the moniker “The King” following his instrumental role in the Lions’ historic 1971 Test series victory over the All Blacks. John’s impact reverberated with 25 caps for Wales between 1966 and 1972, playing for clubs Llanelli and Cardiff. His formidable half-back partnership with Gareth Edwards became a cornerstone for both Wales and the Lions.
Despite achieving remarkable success, John made the shocking decision to retire at the age of 27, citing the overwhelming pressures of fame and expectation. Regarded as one of rugby’s first superstars, his teammate Gareth Edwards described John’s mindset as possessing a “marvellous easiness,” approaching challenges with simplicity and unwavering self-belief.
Gerald Davies, another esteemed colleague, praised John’s ability to remain composed amid the chaos on the field, steering the game according to his will. The rugby community united in tributes, with the British and Irish Lions acknowledging John as “truly one of the greatest,” emphasizing his enduring impact on the sport.
Jonathan Davies, a prominent figure in Welsh rugby, paid his respects on social media, referring to John as one of his heroes. Llanelli’s Scarlets, where John commenced his career in 1964, hailed him as an “icon of the game.” Former Lions tourist John Devereux expressed the profound impact John had on him, describing him as his “greatest idol of all time.”
Born in the village of Cefneithin to a mining family, John’s rugby journey began with Llanelli in 1964, followed by his Wales debut in 1966. His relocation to Cardiff in 1967 marked a significant chapter in his illustrious career. Reflecting on his early retirement, John acknowledged the challenges of being rugby’s first pop star, grappling with fame’s demands that led to a decline in mental and physical sharpness.
Despite stepping away from the playing field, John continued contributing to rugby as a reporter and columnist for the Daily Express and Wales On Sunday. Survived by his wife Janet and children Kathryn, Lucy, Anna, and David, Barry John’s passing leaves a void in the rugby world just weeks after the loss of another Welsh rugby luminary, JPR Williams, who died at the age of 74.
In celebrating Barry John’s life, the rugby community honors not only a sporting legend but a man whose influence transcended the game, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of those who admired him.