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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015