Six Nations

Edwards and Bennett hail 'sensational' JJ Williams as Wales star dies aged 72

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JJ Williams (Bridgend Ravens - Twitter)
JJ Williams (Bridgend Ravens - Twitter)

Wales greats Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennett led the tributes to JJ Williams following the death of their "sensational" former team-mate at the age of 72.

A supreme wing who became an emblematic figure during a golden era for Welsh rugby in the 1970s, Williams scored 12 tries in 30 Tests for Wales.

Williams, whose death was announced on Thursday, also helped Wales win four titles in the then-Five Nations, including two Grand Slams, in 1976 and 1978.

In addition to those triumphs Williams, as well as halfbacks Edwards and Bennett, was a key figure during the British and Irish Lions' unbeaten tour of South Africa in 1974.

The Lions beat the Springboks 3-0, with Williams scoring two tries in both the second and third Tests.

'Speed merchant'

"Those fast grounds in South Africa really suited a speed merchant like JJ, he was in his pomp then," outstanding scrumhalf Edwards told Wales Online.

"Some of the tries he scored were sensational, almost defied logic, but he was a brilliant finisher and his sheer speed took him away from Springboks' defenders," added Edwards, a friend of Williams's from when when they were students together at Cardiff Institute.

"They just couldn't stop him."

Flyhalf Bennett and Williams were also involved in Llanelli's stunning 1972 win over New Zealand that came after the wing had joined the Scarlets from Welsh rivals Bridgend.

"That was one of his highlights," said Bennett of Williams, who enjoyed a subsequent career as a rugby broadcaster with the BBC. "I'd put him up there among the very best."

Saturday marks 48 years to the day since Llanelli's 9-3 victory over the All Blacks at Stradey Park.

It also sees Llanelli's current home ground, Parc Y Scarlets, staging the coronavirus-delayed Six Nations international between Wales and Scotland, with the hosts set to wear black armbands as a mark of respect.

"It always is (poignant) when you have a player of that ilk sadly passing away," said Wales head coach Wayne Pivac.

"I was around and saw him play but most of this group know their rugby history."

A former sprinter who competed for Wales at the 1970 Commonwealth Games, John James Williams was known as JJ in rugby circles to distinguish him from Wales team-mate John Peter Rhys (JPR) Williams, a brilliant full-back.

In total, JJ Williams scored five tries in seven Tests for the Lions, adding one against New Zealand in 1977 to his Springbok quartet.

Only Ireland great Tony O'Reilly, with six across the 1955 and 1958 tours, has scored more Test tries for the Lions.

"We have lost a true legend of the game - RIP JJ Williams," said the Lions. "A man who inspired a generation with his incredible running and finishing abilities."

Williams is survived by his wife and children, including son Rhys who followed in his father's athletic footsteps by becoming the 2012 European 400 metres hurdles champion.

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