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Page last updated at 13:48 GMT, Monday, 6 July 2009 14:48 UK

'Prince of Centres' Williams dies

Bleddyn Williams
Bleddyn Williams was one of the finest centres Wales has produced

Former Wales and British and Irish Lions captain Bleddyn Williams has died at the age of 86.

The 'Prince of Centres' made his Wales debut against England in 1947 and won 22 caps, including five as captain, in a Test career that ended in 1955.

Williams famously led Wales to a 13-8 win over New Zealand in 1953, having also skippered Cardiff RFC to a win over the tourists a month before.

That remains the last victory secured by Wales against the All Blacks.

Williams was also vice-captain of the 1950 Lions on their tour of New Zealand and Australia, captaining them in the third and fourth Tests in New Zealand with Karl Mullen injured.

Although the tourists could only manage a draw and three defeats against the All Blacks, the Lions beat Australia in both internationals that followed on the other side of the Tasman.

In total Williams played in 20 of the Lions' 29 matches and scored 13 tries, including one in the first Test win over Australia in Brisbane.

Born in Taffs Well on 22 February, 1923, the Williams family became synonymous with Cardiff RFC as eight brothers played for the Welsh capital club.

Possessed of a tremendous side-step and great pace, Williams was also a fierce tackler, a great reader of the game and an inspirational leader.

That complete package saw Williams earn the nickname 'Prince of Centres'.

Despite going on to become a rugby great in midfield, Williams started his senior club career as a fly-half with Cardiff Athletic in 1938-39.

The start of the Second World War soon after saw Williams join the Royal Air Force as a pilot, where he flew gliders with distinction.

His fledgling rugby career continued throughout the conflict, turning out for both the RAF and a combined Great Britain team.

Williams returned home and began to make his name with Cardiff RFC, creating a club record by scoring 41 tries in a single season in a total that eventually topped 185.

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Many of those tries were claimed in tandem with his great centre partner and friend Dr Jack Matthews, a combination that would be transferred into both Wales and Lions shirts.

First capped as a fly-half against England at Cardiff Arms Park in 1947, Williams helped Wales to a share of the Five Nations title that season.

The 1949-50 season started as a personal disappointment for Williams, after having been named as Wales captain but then being forced to withdraw because of injury.

Instead it was loose forward John Gwilliam who led Wales to Grand Slam glory that season, a feat he repeated in 1951-52.

Despite his injury problems in 1950, Williams still received a Lions call and in an interview years later admitted he was surprised to go on the tour.

"It was the first tour since the War and a great honour to be selected in the first place, they hadn't had a Lions side since 1930 so there was a lot of interest," Williams said.

"I didn't know I was going to go because I was injured. I never played in a game in 1950 - I missed all four internationals - so it was a great surprise.

"I had to prove my fitness before I went, though. I had to play for Cardiff against Bath on the day that Wales were playing at the Arms Park against France.

"I was only out of plaster the week before I played the game. Can you imagine what my muscles were like?

"I just went through the motions but, thanks to Cliff Morgan, I scored a try in the last few minutes of the game.

"I think the media were fooled by that because they thought 'Williams is fit'.

"There were five weeks aboard ship, though, so I did a lot of exercise and I was alright for the tour.

"I've still got vivid memories, even after all these years. It was a marvellous tour and a great side to play with. It had to be, though, as there were 14 Welshmen on tour!"

But his career's crowning glory was still to come in 1953, when Bob Stuart led New Zealand into British waters.

First, on 21 November, before a crowd of 58,000 at the Arms Park, Cardiff triumphed 8-3 against the touring Kiwis, with tries from Sid Judd and Gwyn Rowlands.

"Cardiff were so special at the time because they were the club who set the standards," Williams mused later.

"On that day the whole team rose to the occasion and it was an experience that we will never forget."

Then, on 19 December, the All Blacks suffered another defeat, going down 13-8 to a Wales national team led by Williams.

Williams retired at the age of 32 in 1955, ending against the same opponents he had started his Test career against eight years before, having won 22 Wales caps and scored seven tries.

WRU President Denis Gethin said: "It's very sad news to hear of the loss of one of the greats of not just Welsh and British but world rugby.

"I was very privileged to watch him play when I was a young boy in what I think was probably his last international which was a real treat.

"He was such a humble man with not an ounce of conceit in his body, but he was a man of great stature.

"I remember Graham Henry coming over to coach Wales and one of the first things he wanted to do when he got here was meet Bleddyn and Jack Matthews.

"Graham's father had met them on the Lions tour of New Zealand in the 1960s and been full of stories about these great people he had had the pleasure of spending time with.

"Bleddyn was also from a great rugby family and he would tell everyone who would listen that his older brother was the better player and that he enjoyed watching him play.

"Something like eight of his family played for Cardiff and his brother Lloyd was a Welsh captain but Bleddyn's attitude was always one of total humility."

After hanging up his boots, Williams began a career in the media and quickly established himself as a respected and authoritative commentator on the game.

Williams was honoured with an MBE in the 2005 New Year Honours List at the age of 81.

He had suffered from ill health for some time and died at the Holme Tower medical centre in Cardiff on Monday.

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



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see also
'Prince of Centres' reaches landmark
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MBE prize for Welsh rugby great
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History of the Lions: The 1950s
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1950s Lions: Squads and results
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All Blacks magic: New Zealand rugby
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Wales' rugby captains
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Scrum V's rugby history
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Wales' rugby fixtures
26 Jun 07 |  Welsh
Wales rugby results archive
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BBC Sport Wales coverage
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Coming up next on Scrum V...
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