Legendary Wales fly-half John passed away on Sunday aged 79, leaving the world of rugby in mourning
Known simply as ‘The King’, Barry John played a talismanic role in the British and Irish Lions’ only ever series win against the All Blacks in 1971.
The former Llanelli and Cardiff player was a leading figure in his nation’s golden era and won 25 caps for his country between 1966 and 1972.
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Within that period, the Cefneithin-born man scored 90 points for his country – a record at the time. Alongside scrum-half Sir Gareth Edwards, John formed one of the strongest half-back partnerships the game has ever known – with the pair taking Wales to a Grand Slam in the 1971 Five Nations, as well as two Triple Crowns.
That year, he finished third in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award – pipped only by winner Princess Anne and runner-up George Best. He retired from rugby union in 1972, aged 27 as he struggled to deal with his new-found celebrity – supposedly making his decision to leave the game after being curtsied by a local cashier.
John, however, will almost certainly be remembered for the iconic role he played in the Lions’ historic series victory over New Zealand in 1971, during which ‘The King’ scored 180 points and played with a degree of flair no other contemporary could replicate.
Former team-mate JPR Williams – who sadly also passed away three weeks ago – told Wales Online in 2019 that he viewed John as “without doubt, the greatest player I played with”.
A family statement released on Sunday read: “Barry John died peacefully today at the University Hospital of Wales surrounded by his loving wife and four children. He was a loving Dadcu (grandfather) to 11 grandchildren and a much-loved brother.”
There has been an outpouring of grief across the rugby world and tributes have arrived from some of the game’s most respected figures since the news broke.
Barry John: Reaction to legend’s passing
Welsh Rugby Union president and former Lions flanker Terry Cobner said: “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.
“For me, he has got to be right up there among the greatest outside halves who have ever played the game, probably the greatest. 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.”
Former Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton, who is now a BBC pundit also paid his respects, adding: “In Wales, I can’t express how high a regard people hold that 70s group, and in particular, people like Barry John, who was an absolute god of Welsh rugby.
“I heard the news today and it completely shocks you. What he contributed to the game, even now, 50 years later, still transcends rugby across the world and he hasn’t picked up a ball for 50 years.
“It’s just sheer testament to how much influence he had on the game when he played, but a massive loss and very sad news.”
Former Wales fly-half Jonathan Davies, who co-commentated on the Scotland’s 27-26 win at Principality Stadium on Saturday, lauded John’s rugby brain following the news.
Davies said: “To be nicknamed ‘The King’, I think that says it all, especially in New Zealand. I was very fortunate, I met Barry when I was very young. I went to the same school as Barry, obviously not at the same time.
“He was a legend, from the day I walked into those school gates. He had a grace and a style about him and certainly left a mark on the game.
“He was such a rugby intellect, to sit with him over a coffee and have a chat, pearls of wisdom would come out. Even when I was playing I used to meet him and he would advise me on a few things, it was great to sit there and listen to him.
“It’s very sad. He was just a great player and a lovely man.”
The Lions paid tribute to one of their finest ever players, describing him as “one of the greatest”.