The life of JPR Williams, the courageous Welsh rugby hero who was different from the rest

The life of JPR Williams, the courageous Welsh rugby hero who was different from the rest

The death of Wales rugby legend JPR Williams has been announced on Monday evening. He was 74 years-old.

The tragic news was confirmed by his former club Bridgend, sparking a wave of tributes throughout the sport and country to one of the greatest players to grace a field. You can follow the latest tributes as they come through here.

Williams was special, a fearless warrior of a player who became a national hero, simply known as JPR.

Following his death, WalesOnline is republishing an interview he gave to us about his life in 2019 to mark his 70th birthday. You can read about the great man in his own words below…

JPR Williams once told how he turned up at a Wales Schoolboys’ trial in his father’s Rolls-Royce, prompting stares and open mouths from his peers, one or two of whom possibly checked to see if there was a butler in the car, too.

There wasn’t.

But his was a comfortable middle-class background, the son of two GPs. He had a stint at Millfield School which developed his self-confidence and taught him how to win. But his upbringing had another effect, serving, he said, “as an extra incentive to prove to my mates that I was tough, and one of them”.

How tough was he? Well, after the full-back was involved in a road traffic accident back in the day, Gareth Edwards was moved to say: “Bloody typical, isn’t it?

“The car’s a write-off. The tanker’s a write-off. But JPR comes out of it all in one piece.”

That was the incident that supposedly led a hospital spokesman to report the next day: “Mr Williams spent a comfortable night, but we were unable to save the lorry.”

Glory days, as Springsteen once sang.

John Peter Rhys Williams — he became known as JPR after another John Williams, JJ, made his Wales debut in 1973 — celebrated his 70th birthday this week, making you wonder where all the years have gone.

Fifty years ago, he made his Five Nations bow for Wales. He was to stick around for 12 years on the Test scene, the rock on which all those red successes were built. No JPR in 1976, no shoulder barge on Jean Francois Gourdon and no Welsh Grand Slam that year. If ever one moment defined a career that was it.

It is said courage is the first of the human qualities because it guarantees all others.

But Williams doesn’t dwell on where his own deep reserves of the stuff came from. Maybe such fearlessness can’t be developed. There are no A levels in courage, after all. A person either has it or he or she doesn’t have it. Maybe it is simply a matter of DNA.

JPR Williams at home


Instead, Williams chooses to say how a law change helped dramatically advance his career.

“I was fortunate in that the laws changed in the late 1960s, restricting kicks to touch,” he says.

“Full- backs were encouraged to run with the ball rather than put it out for a line-out.

“That was good news from my point of view because I always liked to run with the ball. I wasn’t a great kicker and I didn’t particularly like doing that, anyway.

“I played with wingers such as Gerald Davies and JJ Williams who were very good at counter-attacking. We found there was a lot to be gained by running the ball from inside our own half.

“I watch some games and it’s crying out for people to run the ball back. I don’t know why we don’t see more of it.”


JPR Williams has just celebrated his 70th birthday

Today Williams and his wife Scilla live in contented retirement in a blessed rural setting in the Vale of Glamorgan, their four children having long ago left the nest.

There are heaps of memorabilia from his rugby career in evidence, including pictures, ties and books, mostly in an attic that has been converted into a bar.

The hair is silvery these days, but he still wears it long and he still looks as if he could do a job on a rugby pitch.

He began learning Welsh on retiring as an orthopaedic surgeon and is happy to live a quiet, if active, life.


JPR on the run in a 1969 Wales training session

The anniversary of his Test bow at Murrayfield in 1969 came and went without much fanfare, but it was a significant day in Welsh rugby history all those decades ago, the match that saw the class of the 1970s start assembling, with a new coach in Clive Rowlands, a new full-back in Wi

…. to be continued
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