Obituary: Former Wales and Lions wing JJ Williams dies

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JJ Williams with his son Rhys
JJ Williams with his son Rhys, a European champion hurdler

John James Williams MBE, the former Wales and British and Irish Lions wing affectionately known around the world as JJ, has died at the age of 72.

The explosive wing was renowned as one of rugby’s sharpest finishers.

He scored 12 tries in 30 Tests as Wales won four Five Nations titles, including two Grand Slams, during the 1970s.

A former sprinter who represented Wales at the Commonwealth Games, Williams also scored five tries in seven Tests for the Lions across two tours.

Three of Williams’ children also represented Wales in athletics, including son Rhys Williams, a European champion hurdler.

Williams was born in Nantyffyllon on 1 April, 1948 and he attended Maesteg Grammar School.

Showing aptitude for rugby and athletics with his prodigious pace, he represented Wales in the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1970 as John Williams – he would later become known as JJ to avoid a clash of identity with the other John Williams in Wales’ rugby team, the legendary full-back JPR Williams.

At the 1970 Games, JJ Williams demonstrated his speed with a time of 10.6 seconds in the 100m heats, as well as competing in the 200m and 4x100m.

He was quick, no doubt, but he also sensed he would not quite be world-class on the track.

Rugby, however, was a different matter.

Williams initially played for Bridgend before joining Llanelli in 1972, and his move to west Wales would lead to a first international cap in 1973.

Naturally, his was a rapid rise and, a year after making his Wales debut, Williams was called up by the British and Irish Lions for their legendary 1974 tour of South Africa.

The Lions completed the 22-match tour unbeaten – winning three and drawing one of the Tests against the Springboks – with Williams scoring two tries in each of the second and third Tests.

JJ Williams (right) celebrates after scoring the first of his two tries for the Lions with Phil Bennett (far left) Bobby Windsor and Gareth Edwards South Africa v British Lions 9-26 third Test Port Elizabeth 13/7/1974
JJ Williams (right) celebrates with Phil Bennett (far left) Bobby Windsor and Gareth Edwards after scoring the first of his two tries for the Lions in their Third test win over South Africa in 1974

Huge success with Wales followed, as Williams helped his country win the Five Nations Championship four times between 1975 and 1979.

That included Grand Slams in 1976 and 1978 as Williams and his team-mates rubber-stamped their status as greats of not only Welsh rugby but the sport at large.

Williams played in every game of every campaign in that period, ending with a tally of 12 tries in 30 appearances for Wales.

He brought the curtain down on his career in typical fashion, scoring a try in his final match to help Wales beat England to clinch the 1979 Five Nations title.

After retiring, Williams made a name for himself as an outspoken pundit, co-commentating on international and club rugby for BBC Wales.

Williams also ran a commercial and industrial painting company based in Pyle, near Bridgend, but he would still appear on the airwaves or in the newspapers from time to time to voice his strong opinions on the game.

Those views occasionally ruffled a few feathers, but he remained a respected figure in the sport for all he achieved in a golden period for Wales and the Lions.



BBC News