Brian Williams

Powerful Neath and Wales prop
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The Independent Online

Brian Richard Williams, rugby player: born Penffordd, Pembrokeshire 9 July 1962; married (two daughters); died Llangolman, Pembrokeshire 7 February 2007.

When Wales take the field against Scotland in the second round of the Six Nations at Murrayfield today, their loose-head prop Duncan Jones will be following in the footsteps of his boyhood idol. In 1990, Brian Williams, from the same Neath club that helped to launch Jones's career, made his international début against the Scots. Williams went on to win five caps in the Welsh front row and became a leading figure in the game in Wales.

"Brian was one of the first props in what you'd call the new mould," Jones said.

He was always around the field, coming out of the mauls with ball in hand and charging up field.

He was certainly someone I looked up to in my younger playing days and I have some great early memories of him playing at the Gnoll.

I was fortunate to have actually played with him. He's still a legend with the fans in Neath and is the first name that springs to mind when anyone talks about the Neath front row.

Born in Penffordd, near Maenclochog, Williams learned his rugby at Ysgol Preseli and then Narberth rugby club. He represented Pembrokeshire before joining Neath in 1983. A farmer by trade, he formed an all-farming front row with his near neighbours Kevin Phillips and John Davies at Neath. He made more than 250 appearances for the Welsh All Blacks between 1983 and 1995, playing for the club against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa in that time.

Built more like a back-row forward than a prop, he weighed 14st 2lb and was 6ft 1in tall. But within that wiry frame was one of the most powerful rugby players in the world. He helped Neath to win the WRU Challenge Cup twice, the inaugural Heineken League title and two Western Mail championships.

He was also at the heart of the side that set a new world tries (385) and points (1,917) records for a season in 1988/89. His club performances demanded he be taken seriously by the international selectors, although it took the appointment of the Neath coach Ron Waldron to the Wales post before he got the call-up. "Brian suffered in the minds of some people because of his weight and size," the former England prop Jeff Probyn said.

But I can tell you from first-hand experience that he was a very, very good prop. He was very fit, very strong and very hard - and an excellent technician. I can still remember packing down against him in Cardiff in 1991 in an England side that was expected to push Wales all over the field. We failed to do so, even at a scrum on the Welsh line.

Williams's five appearances for Wales all ended in defeat. His début was against Scotland in Cardiff in 1990 and his final appearance came against England in 1991. Gareth Llewellyn, who played for club and country with Williams, rated him the most powerful man he has ever played rugby with.

Pound for pound he was the strongest man in the game. He brought mental toughness and hardness to Neath and gave us all the lead in those areas. The Neath team of the late Eighties and early Nineties was one of the best sides I have ever played in and it was down to players like Brian.

An accident on his farm, when a nine-inch angle grinder almost severed his left wrist, should have brought Williams's rugby career to a premature end. But he became more determined than ever and returned as fit as ever to the Neath front row. "No other man could have come back to play after an injury like that," Kevin Phillips, his Neath and Wales colleague, said.

He was told he would never play again, but that made him all the more determined to do so. I've never met another man like him.

Rob Cole