JJ Williams one of 'the very best', says Bennett as Wales star dies aged 72

RIP (File)
RIP (File)

Phil Bennett hailed JJ Williams as "among the very best" following the death of his fellow Wales great 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.

Both he and flyhalf Bennett were involved in several triumphs.

As well as their Wales exploits, the pair played in Llanelli's celebrated 9-3 win over New Zealand in 1972 and were key figures during the British and Irish Lions' unbeaten tour of South Africa two years later.

"Those who know their rugby know he wasn't just a fast sprinter, but he also perfected the wonderful chip ahead over the top and regathering the ball," Bennett told Wales Online.

"No more so than in 1974. I think he hit the peak of his playing career on that tour.

"On the fast, rock-hard grounds of South Africa, he was unstoppable, insisted Bennett, adding: "I'd put him up there among the very best."

Shane Williams, a Wales and Lions wing of the early 2000s, saluted his celebrated predecessor by tweeting: "So sorry to hear that JJ Williams has passed away! It was a pleasure to have shared your jersey."

Saturday marks 48 years to the day since Llanelli's stunning success over the All Blacks at Stradey Park.

That day 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 current Wales coach Wayne Pivac.

"I was around and saw him play but most of this group know their rugby history," the New Zealander added.

"Personally, he was very good to have rugby conversations with."

A former sprinter who competed for Wales at the 1970 Commonwealth Games, John James Williams, known as JJ to distinguish him from Wales fullack team-mate John Peter Rhys (JPR) Williams, also scored five tries in seven Tests for the Lions spanning two tours.

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

Four of Williams's international tries for the combined side came during a 3-0 series win over the Springboks in 1974.

That tour also saw Williams equal England great David Duckham's record of six tries in a Lions game during a 97-0 rout of South West Districts.

"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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