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 said in a statement: “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.”

Wales will wear black armbands as a mark of respect when they take on Scotland in their delayed Guinness Six Nations clash in Llanelli on Saturday.

Coincidentally, Saturday will mark the 48th anniversary of Llanelli beating the All Blacks 9-3 at Stradey Park – a game in which JJ played.

“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. The guys are well aware of what he’s achieved in the game.

“He’s a well known figure and familiar face and was around the place quite a lot.

“He was always a friendly face who would come and say hello. Personally, he was very good to have rugby conversations with.”

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 said on social media: “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.

Llanelli’s clubs lined up to pay tribute, with his former club Llanelli RFC 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.”

JJ Williams File Photo
Wales and British Lions wing JJ Williams, who has died aged 72, pictured with his son Rhys celebrating Rhys’ European Athletics bronze medal in the 400 metres hurdles.

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.”

JJ Williams’ son James thanked everyone for the tributes on behalf of the family.

He wrote on Twitter: “Our amazing Dad passed away peacefully this morning. As a family we would like to thank everyone for the lovely messages and tributes. Dad lived life to the full right to the end and we will miss him forever. Love you Dad x”.