JJ Williams has been hailed as “one of the greatest wings to play for Llanelli, Wales and the British & Irish Lions” following his death at the age of 72.
Williams, who was christened John James but known throughout the world of rugby by his initials, was also described as “a man who inspired a generation” as the tributes poured in for one of the finest finishers the game has seen.
He scored 12 tries in 30 appearances for Wales and won Grand Slams in 1976 and 1978, as well as four Triple Crowns between 1976 and 1979.
The Welsh Rugby Union wrote: “JJ Williams, one of the greatest wings to play for Llanelli, Wales and the British & Irish Lions, has died at the age of 72.
“All our thoughts are with JJ’s family and friends at this sad time.”
Williams toured South Africa in 1974 and New Zealand in 1977 with the Lions and his try-scoring exploits put him into the tourists’ record books.
The Lions wrote: “We have lost a true legend of the game – RIP JJ Williams. A man who inspired a generation with his incredible running and finishing abilities.
“The Welsh winger was a key member of our famous 1974 & 1977 Tours, delivering commanding performances across 7 Tests.”
He equalled David Duckham’s record of six tries in a single Lions game during a 97-0 victory over South West Districts in 1974.
Williams scored four tries in the subsequent 3-0 Test series triumph against South Africa, becoming only the second Lions player to score two tries twice in a Test.
He scored another Test try in New Zealand three years later and his five-try Test haul is only second to Ireland’s Tony O’Reilly, who crossed six times during the Lions tours of 1955 and 1959.
Saturday will mark the 48th anniversary of Llanelli beating the All Blacks 9-3 at Stradey Park – a game in which JJ played – and the day will also see the town’s Parc y Scarlets host Wales’ Six Nations clash with Scotland.
The town’s clubs lined up to pay tribute, with his former club Llanelli posting: “It is with great sadness that we hear of the passing of the great JJ Williams. We would like to extend our sincerest condolences to his family, friends and former teammates.”
Scarlets – the PRO14 club based in the town – tweeted: “We are deeply saddened to hear that our former player JJ Williams has passed away. JJ played 223 games for Llanelli RFC in nine seasons at Stradey Park. Our thoughts are with JJ’s family, many friends and former team-mates at this sad time. A true great of Welsh rugby.”
Another of Williams’ former clubs Bridgend Ravens tweeted: “All at Bridgend Ravens are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of former player JJ Williams. Our thoughts are with JJ’s family and friends at this tough time.”
Players, politicians and people from the entertainment industry were among those tweeting their respects following the news, with former Wales and Lions wing Shane Williams posting: “So sorry to hear that JJ Williams has passed away! It was a pleasure to have shared your jersey.”