Welsh rugby has lost one of its legends with the death of JJ Williams at the age of 72 after a long illness. The lightning wing, who ran for Wales at the Commonwealth Games, was a key cog in the all-conquering Welsh side of the 70s.
He was also an outstanding British and Irish Lion, scoring a record-equalling five tries in seven Tests including the step and dummy score which scythed apart the All Blacks and brought victory in the Second Test in 1977.
His overall record for the Lions was an astounding 22 tries in 26 tour matches including six in one game against South West Districts on the 1974 tour to South Africa.
Team-mate JPR Williams led the tributes on Thursday.
“He was very fit, very quick. But he also had a big-match temperament and I think with that side in the 70s we had a lot of big-match players,” said JPR.
“At the top level that’s what separates the top guys from the rest, and you can’t really teach that. JJ had that.
“He was never a big talker in the dressing room. He just got on with his own game really and led by example on the pitch.
“When you’re talking about greats of the game, I think he’s got to be a part of that conversation. I think he’ll go down as one of the great Welsh wingers.”
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont was a team-mate on the ’77 Lions tour.
“Very sad to hear that JJ Williams has passed away. Superb athlete and electric rugby player,” he tweeted.
“JJ will be remembered for scoring the decisive try in the 1977 Lions 2nd Test v NZ on my debut tour but he was also great to be around on tour.”
Shane Williams, who followed JJ Williams into the Wales and Lions sides, posted: “So sorry to hear that JJ Williams has passed away. It was a pleasure to have shared your jersey.”
Williams was a good all-round rugby player who made few mistakes but it was his pace which set him apart.
The top-ranked sprinter in Wales as a 22-year-old, JJ – John James – once ran a wind-assisted 10.4 seconds for the 100m and could have gone into athletics as he and wife Jane’s three children Kathryn, James and Rhys did. All three became internationals.
JJ chose rugby thankfully for Wales. In all he scored 12 tries in 30 Tests for his country including one in his final Test against England in 1979 which brought a fourth Five Nations title in five seasons. He was an ever-present in that extraordinary golden period which included two Grand Slams.
His club career took him from Maesteg to Bridgend and then onto Llanelli for whom he played 223 games in nine seasons including the famous 1972 win over New Zealand at Stradey Park.
Williams went on to become a millionaire after his retirement from what was then amateur rugby through his industrial paintwork business.
He remained in touch with the sport as a forthright analyst on radio and television until his death just a week after that of his older brother Peter.