JPR Williams, the legendary rugby union player from Wales and the British Lions, passes away at the age of 74.

Welsh rugby has suffered the loss of another legendary figure from the 1970s following the passing of JPR Williams at 74 years old.

The former full-back, who represented his country 55 times and also played for the British & Irish Lions in eight Tests, was a vital member of the Wales team that achieved three Grand Slams in the Five Nations Championship between 1971 and 1978.

Even after five decades, JPR remains one of the most recognizable names in global rugby, with only the most avid fans aware that his initials stand for John Peter Rhys. The general public were more familiar with his trademark sideburns, rolled-down socks, and no-nonsense style of play, which perfectly complemented the skills of his esteemed teammates such as Barry John, Gareth Edwards, and Phil Bennett.

In addition to leading Wales on five occasions, Williams is credited with changing the perception of the full-back role. Strong, direct, committed, and athletic, he made his Wales debut at the age of 19 in 1969 and only two years later started as the Lions’ full-back in the Test series against New Zealand. He played in every Test during the Lions’ historic series victory, including scoring the crucial long-range goal in the fourth and final Test, which ended in a 14-14 draw.

Williams also toured South Africa in 1974 but did not participate in the 1977 New Zealand tour after being advised to focus on his “other” career as an orthopaedic surgeon. At the club level, he played for both London Welsh and Bridgend. In 1978, he famously suffered a face stamp by All Black John Ashworth, requiring 30 stitches administered on the touchline by his father. However, Williams returned to the field and completed the game. One of his notable achievements was his exceptional record against England, having never been on the losing side in 10 Tests against them and scoring five tries.

Williams retired from international rugby in 1981 to fully dedicate himself to his career as a surgeon, but he continued to play for Tondu for many years. Aside from rugby, he was also a successful tennis player in his youth, winning the British junior title at Wimbledon in 1966. He chose rugby over tennis to further his medical career as an orthopaedic surgeon.

Tributes for JPR Williams, who earned the nickname ‘JPR’ to distinguish him from his teammate JJ Williams, have poured in. His former club, Bridgend Ravens, expressed their devastation at his passing, highlighting his decorated playing career and his role as the club president. The Barbarians, with whom he played in the famous 1973 match against New Zealand in Cardiff, described him as a special figure in the club’s history. Bill Beaumont, his former Lions captain and current chairman of World Rugby, also paid tribute, stating that the sport had lost a true legend.

A statement from the Williams family confirmed his peaceful passing at the University Hospital of Wales, surrounded by his wife and four children, after a courageous battle with bacterial meningitis. The family has requested privacy during this difficult time.

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