R. H. WILLIAMS was one of the giants of British rugby during the Fifties, a second-row forward who won plaudits from the hard schools of forward play in South Africa and New Zealand.
It was on successive tours with the British Lions, to South Africa in 1955 and Australasia in 1959, that the Llanelli lock earned worldwide respect for his powerful play. His performances in the Test series in New Zealand in 1959 brought praise from arguably the game's greatest lock, Colin Meads, who described him as the strongest opponent he had played against.
Those sentiments obviously hit home because the New Zealand Rugby Almanac of 1960 voted him one of their five 'Players of the Year' for the previous season. Few, if any, visiting forwards to New Zealand are afforded such elevated status and the Almanac went on to say: 'He was the outstanding forward of the Lions side. Had he been a New Zealander he could well have gained selection as an All Black. He had as much energy at the end of the tour after 17 appearances as he did at the start.'
Rhys Haydn Williams learnt his rugby at Ystalyfera Grammar School and went on to University College, Cardiff, where he gained a B Sc. He did his National Service in the RAF and was commissioned as an education officer. He later rose to be assistant education director for Mid-Glamorgan.
His rugby education continued in the Services and he played for the RAF in the second row alongside the England international Peter Yarranton. But for a dispute over his trip to the South African Rugby Board's Centenary celebrations in 1989, Williams would have become President of the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) in the same year as Yarranton reached the same office with the Rugby Football Union.
Having originally said he would not be taking up an invitation to join the celebrations in South Africa he went on the tour with a number of other WRU committee members. Shortly after his return he resigned his post as a national representative as the reaction to the South African trip became more and more bitter.
He served 15 years on the WRU committee and was a national selector, and chairman of selectors, for a number of years. He also served on the committee of the Barbarians - a club with which he toured Canada and South Africa as a player - and managed the Wales B tour to Spain in 1983.
But it will be as a player that 'RH' will be best remembered, a powerhouse of a man who was on the winning side in 14 of the 23 internationals he played in for Wales. He led his country in his last international, against England in 1960, and captained Llanelli in 1958-59.
Further afield he was an ever- present in the 10 Tests played by the Lions on their 1955 and 1959 tours, savouring victory on five occasions. The best tribute to his playing ability came in New Zealand in 1959 after the Lions had won the fourth and final test in Auckland. 'RH' had played in all four games, the first three going the home side's way, and had made such an impact that the Kiwis invited him into their private post-match function and presented him with an All Black jersey. No greater mark of respect could a forward ask, no greater compliment or tribute be paid.
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