He had redefined the role of fullback in the 1970s, and three letters were enough to identify him. John Peter Rhys “JPR” Williams, Welsh rugby legend, died on Monday January 8, aged 74. The Bridgend Ravens club, of which he was president, hailed an “icon of world rugby” in a statement. Considered one of the best players in history in his position, he left his mark with an offensive game that broke conventions.

Member of the “golden generation” of the XV du Poireau, which reigned over the Five Nations Tournament in the 1970s – with eight victories between 1969 and 1979, for three grand slams (1971, 1976 and 1978) –, JPR Williams shone alongside Phil Bennett, Barry John and Gareth Edwards. Teammates he found in the jersey of the British Lions (bringing together the best English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish players), with whom he won prestigious victories in New Zealand and South Africa. In 2014, the Welsh fullback with fifty-five caps was inducted into the Rugby Hall of Fame, the pantheon of the discipline.

A player with iconic style

When the death of JPR Williams was announced, tributes followed one another in the Oval. “Rugby has lost one of its greatest players of all time. He was the rock of the defenses of all the teams he played for,” greeted the president of the Welsh Rugby Federation, Terry Cobner – one of his teammates in the selection, in the 1970s, on Monday.

Strong and brawling, at 1.85 meters tall, JPR was also emblematic because of his style, and in particular his sideburns which he wore thickly along his temples.

Born in Bridgend, 40 kilometers west of Cardiff, JPR Williams might not have known rugby, having first tried tennis, where he enjoyed his first successes. In 1963 he even became Welsh junior champion. Although he grew up juggling between the Oval and the little yellow ball, the young Welshman definitively opted for rugby at the age of 19, after his selection for the Welsh B team’s tour to Argentina. A few months later, he obtained his first international cap in the Five Nations Tournament against Scotland.

In parallel with his rugby career – which he led until the age of 54 – JPR Williams, who played during the prosperous period of amateur rugby, devoted himself to medicine. This son of doctor parents became an orthopedic surgeon after his career. “I usually say that I spent half my life breaking my own bones on rugby fields and the other half putting other people’s bones back together in the operating room,” he said. he writes in his biography published in 2007 (Given the Breaks: My Life in Rugby, Hodder, untranslated). A year and a half after Phil Bennett, captain and fly-half of the Golden Leek XV, died in June 2022, Welsh rugby lost another of its brilliant stars on Monday.