Bleddyn Williams: 'The Prince of Centres' who remains the last captain to lead Wales to victory over the All Blacks

Bleddyn Williams, the Welsh rugby player known and respected worldwide as the "Prince of Centres" and the last Welshman to captain his country to victory over New Zealand, died in Cardiff on Monday at the age of 86. Williams, a magnificent passer of the ball and blessed with the definitive Welsh sidestep, led Wales to a 13-8 win over Bob Stuart's 1953 touring All Blacks three weeks after captaining his club, Cardiff, to an 8-3 victory over the New Zealanders.

Born in Taffs Well on 22 February, 1923, Bleddyn Llewellyn Williams was one of eight brothers and four sisters, and had his sporting skills honed at Rydal School in north Wales before going on to score 185 tries in 283 appearances for Cardiff.

He scored seven tries in 22 Welsh appearances between 1947 and 1955, and on the five occasions he captained Wales there were five victories. A 1950 British and Irish Lions tourist to Australasia, he captained the Lions in three of the five Tests in which he played. He retired in 1955 at the age of 32 and became an authorative commentator on the game. He died at Holme Tower medical centre in Cardiff days after another Lions tour has been completed.

"I count my blessings that I played the game when I did, when you played rugby for the love of the game and the immense pride of representing your club and country," Williams said. "That was reward enough for us but now chasing the dollar, pound or euro seems to be king and the game is the poorer for it. The game is a commercial venture that has had its soul ripped out. And – in complete contrast to today's situation with a team of highly paid coaches – in 1950 we didn't even have a single coach. Karl Mullen, the Lions tour captain, looked after the forwards and I looked after the backs. The 32-match tour lasted for six and a half months, including five weeks on the boat each way, going out through the Panama Canal and back through the Suez and as Ken Jones and John Robins were both PE teachers they kept us going in keeping fit."

Williams played in 20 of the Lions' 29 matches and scored 12 tries, including one in the first-Test win over Australia in Brisbane, and rugby was never far away where Williams was concerned, even during the height of the Second World War. He joined the RAF as a 20-year-old and, after training near Phoenix in Arizona, rose to the rank of Flight Lieutenant, flying gliders in behind enemy lines.

"I had been selected to play for Great Britain against the Dominions at Leicester," he recalled. "The weekend before that I did a glider drop over the Rhine and on the Friday I was still in Germany, having spent six nights sleeping in a slit trench with only an American parachute for cover. On that Friday the major in charge, Hugh Bartlett – who captained the Sussex cricket team – asked me if I was playing the next day and when I said I had a fat chance of that he said, 'Pack your bags because you are off.'

"He drove me to the Rhine, which I crossed on a barge, and then on to the base in Eindoven. From Holland I was flown to Brize Norton, where my CO picked me up and flew me back to base camp at Rivenhall, where I arrived around midnight.

"My wife Violet and I had only recently married – she thought I had been killed when she was told only two of the glider pilots on that mission had survived – but we made it to Leicester by lunchtime, I scored a try and Great Britain won the match."

While Williams, who was honoured with an MBE in the 2005 New Year's Honours List, was one of Welsh rugby's favourite and most celebrated sons, the friendships he forged through the game – particularly with New Zealand opponents – remained strong and true to the end.

Cliff Morgan, a former team-mate and close friend, said: "Those of us who were fortunate enough to play with him will always say Bleddyn was a true rugby man for he taught us the old-fashioned principles of courtesy and courage. His love of the open, running game set him apart: his glorious side-step, his perfectly timed pass, his speed and strength, made him a very special world class centre. There is a great sadness in my heart for I have not only lost a dear friend but Bleddyn was a magical example to us all and we will miss him."

Bleddyn Williams is survived by a son, two daughters, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

John Kennedy

Bleddyn Llewellyn Williams, rugby union player: born Taffs Well 22 February 1923; played for Cardiff, Wales 1947-55, Lions 1950; MBE 2005; married (one son, two daughters); died Cardiff 6 July 2009.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game