With his distinctive sideburns and low socks, JPR Williams was a rugby icon in the 1970’s and it was on this day in rugby history in 1949 that the Welsh fullback was born. He earned 55 caps for Wales and 8 playing with the British and Irish Lions.
Williams was a key figure in Wales Grand Slam runs in 1971, 1976 and 1978 and was a constant thorn in the side of rivals England. He was undefeated in 10 matches against England and scored 5 tries in the process. He is considered one of, if not the, best full back for Wales and the Lions.
--- JPR Williams wore his Wales and British and Irish Lions rugby jerseys with pride. Get your official rugby gear at the World Rugby Shop has show your passion for the sport whether you are on the pitch or watching from the pub. ---
The British and Irish Lions called him for the 1971 tour of New Zealand as well as the ‘Invincibles’ tour of South Africa in 1974. The Lions were undefeated in their 22 matches but the test matches were some of the most violent and illegally played in the history of the sport. The final match, ‘the Battle of Boet Erasmus Stadium’ included the ‘99 call’ and now infamous punch Johnnes van Heerden.
"It was the first-half and we were under a lot of pressure, and I'm not particularly proud of it now, but I remember sprinting about 40 yards to hit their biggest guy in the second row, Johnnes van Heerden. As I went towards him, there were two players running the other way, Phil Bennett and Andy Irvine. At least I'd picked on the biggest guy.”
The tour was a special one for the Lions, however. The visitor’s only blemish was a draw in the final test match.
"The Lions trips were the pinnacle, they were marvellous,'' he reflected the Lions Legends Dinner in 2008. “Just imagine, I was a young sports mad medical student and I got to go on a four-month rugby tour when I could train or play every day, and every bit of food and drink was paid for. I managed two tours and a third beckoned in 1977 but my consultant cracked the whip a little, it really was time to knuckle down and pursue my career!”
Medicine called Williams after he hung up his rugby boots. He became a well respected surgeon and always found it his two passions at odds with each other saying, “I used to say that I spent half my life breaking bones on the rugby field, then the other half putting them back together in the operating theatre.”
1949 - J. P. R. Williams, Welsh Rugby Union player