Barry John, the Welsh rugby union great who was crowned ‘The King’ after inspiring the Lions’ famous 1971 series victory over the All Blacks, has died at the age of 79.
Tributes poured in for the former Llanelli and Cardiff fly-half, with the Lions calling him “truly one of the greatest”, and Welsh Rugby Union president Terry Cobner saying John “was and will remain a legend of our game”.
John, who won 25 Wales caps between 1966 and 1972 and was given the nickname ‘The King’ by New Zealand journalists due to the impact of his performances on the 1971 tour, died in hospital on Sunday.
A statement released by John’s family read: “Barry John died peacefully today at the University Hospital of Wales surrounded by his loving wife and four children.
“He was a loving dad to his 11 grandchildren and a much-loved brother.”
John played his club rugby for Llanelli and then Cardiff, where he struck up a half-back partnership with Gareth Edwards that went on to flourish for Wales and the Lions.
John was partnered by Edwards in 23 of his Wales international appearances, plus all five Lions Tests – one against South Africa and four against New Zealand. He retired from the sport at the age of 27.
His death comes just four weeks after another star of Welsh rugby’s golden era, JPR Williams, also passed away.
Jonathan Davies, one of the most renowned Welsh players of the 1980s and 1990s, paid tribute to John, writing on social media: “RIP Barry – another one of my heroes sadly gone. #BarryJohnTheKing”.
John will be particularly remembered for his performances on the two Lions Tours, in which he scored 30 of the Lions’ 48 points across four Tests.
Calling him “truly one of the greatest”, the Lions added in a statement: “We are hugely saddened that the great Barry John has passed away at the age of 79.
“Barry inspired so many and will forever be remembered for how much he gave to the sport.
“All our thoughts are with his family and friends.”
WRU president Terry Cobner, who played in the Welsh back-row and toured with the Lions in 1977, described John as “probably the greatest” fly-half of all time.
“To be crowned ‘The King’ in New Zealand when every back row forward in both the North and South Islands is trying to take your head off is quite some accolade,” said Cobner.
“For me, he has got to be right up there among the greatest outside halves who have ever played the game – probably the greatest.
“He was a glider, rather than a sidestepper, who had a subtle change of pace and direction. Coming on top of the recent deaths of Brian Price and JPR Williams, this is another huge blow for Welsh rugby.
“After what he did for Wales and the Lions in 1971, those of us who followed him into both teams always felt we had huge shoes to fill. He was and will remain a legend of our game.”
Scarlets, where John started his first-class career in 1964, described John as “an icon of the game”, while former Lions tourist John Devereux tweeted: “My greatest idol of all time has gone”.