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Iconic Welsh and British and Irish Lions legend passes away at the age of 74

Renowned Welsh and British and Irish Lions rugby legend JPR Williams has passed away at 74 years old.

The ex-London Welsh, Bridgend, and Barbarians full-back was an emblem of Wales’ and the Lions’ successes during the 1970s.

Williams led both Wales and Bridgend, securing 55 caps for his national team. His notable performances during the Lions’ victorious tours to New Zealand in 1971 and South Africa in 1974 earned him eight Test caps.

In a statement released by the Williams family, they announced his peaceful passing at the University Hospital of Wales, where he was surrounded by his devoted wife and four children. He had been battling bacterial meningitis after a brief illness. The family requested privacy during this challenging time.

Throughout his career, Williams achieved three Five Nations Grand Slams in 1971, 1976, and 1978. He retired from international rugby in 1981 but continued sporadic rugby appearances until his ultimate retirement in 2003.

Williams was notably involved in what many consider to be rugby’s greatest-ever try, scored by Sir Gareth Edwards for the Barbarians against New Zealand in Cardiff in 1973.

The Barbarians praised Williams as “one of rugby’s greats,” highlighting his enduring place in the club’s history and hearts.

London Welsh, where Williams played for eight years, expressed their sorrow, noting his passing as a significant loss to all who knew and admired him.

Following his retirement from rugby, Williams focused on his career as an orthopaedic surgeon.

Former Wales and Lions center Jamie Roberts, who also holds a medical degree, regarded Williams as an icon for Wales, the Lions, and the Barbarians. He described Williams as an “inspiration and role model for the rugby-medical fraternity.”

Terry Cobner, the former Wales Rugby Union (WRU) president, shared his memories of playing alongside Williams in the 1976 and 1978 Grand Slam victories and the 1977 Triple Crown season.

“The world of rugby has lost one of its greatest players of all time, a man who revolutionised full-back play,” said Cobner.

“He was the defensive rock in every team in which he played, the counter-attacking inspiration and the man who feared nothing and never saw a lost cause. We all thought he was ‘Mr Indestructible’.

“Although he played during the amateur era, he was thoroughly professional in his sporting outlook and always drove standards in training and on the field. With JPR in your side, there was always a chance of winning anything.

“Welsh rugby will remember him as one of our greatest players of all time – those 55 caps, three Grand Slams and six Triple Crowns prove that. 

“He also played in all eight Tests in New Zealand and South Africa on arguably the two greatest tours undertaken by the Lions, in 1971 and 1974.

“It was his drop goal from near half-way that enabled the 1971 Lions to draw the fourth Test and win the series 2-1 against the mighty All Blacks – the only series victory by the Lions on New Zealand soil.

“A star in the making from his early school days at Bridgend Grammar, then at Millfield, he went on to thrill crowds at both London Welsh and Bridgend on the club scene. He was ‘box office’ wherever he went.

“This is a terrible loss for our game, but obviously an even worse loss for his wife Scilla and their children. The thoughts of the whole Welsh rugby family are with them at this difficult time.”

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