John Peter Rhys Williams (born 2 March 1949 in Cardiff), known universally as JPR Williams, played rugby union for Wales between 1969 and 1981. He is considered by many to be one of the greatest fullbacks of all time.
Williams' devastating tackling and fierceness in defense were particularly renowned, but he also displayed great skill, speed, and agility in attack. A player with no real weaknesses, he was also a skilled kicker. In an era when it was politically unwise to admit to liking rugby league, JPR was one of the few who studied the game and claimed that his 'chip and kick' were based on rugby league kicking.
Williams was also a very promising tennis player. There is a popular urban myth that he won Junior Wimbledon in 1966 (in fact won by a Soviet, Korotkov, that year). Williams gave up tennis for the then-amateur game of rugby union in order to pursue a career in medicine. Williams' obvious ability quickly attracted attention and he was consequently first capped by Wales in 1969 aged 19. He went on to earn 55 caps for Wales and 8 for the Lions. He played club rugby for Bridgend and London Welsh.
He had many high points in his career, being a key player in a Welsh side that won Grand Slams in 1971, 1976, and 1978, but is particularly remembered for his remarkable record against England; in 10 tests between Wales and England he scored five tries and was never on the losing side. He was also outstanding for the Lions, winning the 1971 series against New Zealand with a long-range drop-goal and playing a major role in the 1974 'invincible' series against South Africa.
Several episodes illustrate his legendary hardness.
In the aforementioned 1974 Lions tour, the squad had developed the infamous "99 call" as a signal for the entire team to begin fighting. When the call came in the Boet Erasmus Stadium, JPR ran half the length of the pitch and launched himself at Johannes van Heerden, a lock several inches taller and four stone heavier than Williams. Van Heerden was knocked out and later told Williams that it was the finest punch he had ever received.
In response to an injury crisis during the Welsh 1978 tour of Australia he played as a flanker in the final test. Expected to struggle in the unfamiliar highly physical position, he took to the role with relish and gave an impressive performance.
Playing for Bridgend against the All Blacks in 1978, Williams was caught at the bottom of a ruck, where he was stamped on by the opposing prop John Ashworth and had a hole torn in his cheek. Unfazed, Williams, a trained surgeon, retired from the pitch, stitched up his own injuries, and returned to the field.
Williams retired from international rugby union in 1981 and continued his career as an orthopaedic surgeon. He continued playing club rugby for many years, playing throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He now lives in the Vale of Glamorgan.