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The greatest full-backs of all time: JPR Williams

JPR Williams for the Lions Rugby World

JPR Williams tops many people's lists as the greatest full-back to ever play the game


Major Teams: Bridgend, London Welsh, Natal, Tondu
Country: Wales
Test span: 1969-81
Wales caps: 55 (55 starts)
Lions caps: 8 (8 starts)
Test points: 39 (6T, 2C, 3P, 1DG)

It takes a special performer to become identifiable by three initials, but it was far more than the initials of JPR that canonised this formidable full-back into the legend of Welsh rugby.

Flowing hair and prominent sideburns, allied to a full-blooded approach, made the Bridgend-born surgeon an unmistakeable figure on the field of play. An outstanding tennis player who won a junior competition at Wimbledon in 1966, Williams opted for rugby because its amateur status ensured he could continue with his medical studies.

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He first gave notice of his taken on a 1968 development tour of Argentina, when he was dubbed ‘Canasta’ – Spanish for basket – by home fans due to his unerring safety under the high ball. Having moved to St Mary’s University and joined London Welsh, he was given a Test debut against Scotland in 1969 aged 19. A maiden try arrived the next season, fittingly against England.

On the way to representing Wales 55 times, collecting three Grand Slams, he would be on the winning side in all 11 of his Anglo-Welsh clashes. Moments of astounding courage passed into folklore. Given Williams specialises in orthopaedics, bone-shuddering is an apt term to describe the hit that forced Frenchman Jean-Francois Gourdon over the Cardiff Arms Park touchline in 1976.

More pivotal in interventions came over eight Tests for the Lions. In 1974, Williams was a core member of the ‘Invincibles’ outfit that saw off South Africa 3-0. Three years later, his monster drop-goal in Aukland salvaged a 14-14 draw against New Zealand, securing the series 2-1.

He continued to play internationally into the 1980s, even starting a Test in Australia at flanker, and was well past 50 by the time he retired in at Tondu in 2003. Coach Carwyn James poetically portrayed what JPR brought to his Lions team. “Like a forest animal he was blessed with the sixth sense for the presence of danger. It was an element he sough and loved. Fearless. Uncompromising. The competitor of competitors.”

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