He was an icon in Blue and Black and was suitably crowned “The King” for his excellence on the international stage.
At the age of 79, the Cardiff, Wales and British & Irish Lions great Barry John has sadly passed away.
During an illustrious career, in which he spent six years at Cardiff Arms Park, John mesmerised the rugby world and and earned a celebrity status.
An illusive runner who could beat defenders with a nonchalant ease, a master tactician and a precision kicker, John simply had it all. He was a rugby genius compared to his footballing contemporary George Best.
In 93 appearances for Cardiff, there were 24 tries and 30 dropped goals, including his famous four to seal a 12-9 victory over his former club Llanelli.
He started on 25 occasions for Wales and won five further Test caps with the Lions.
During that time he won three Five Nations titles, a Grand Slam and two Triple Crowns, and inspired the Lions to a historic 2-1 series victory over New Zealand, for which he was crowned the King. In total he made 17 appearances during the Lions’ 1971 tour, his record read: seven tries, 31 conversions, eight dropped goals, 28 penalties. Total points 191.
Almost always by his side during those years was Sir Gareth Edwards. They formed the greatest half-back partnership ever seen.
Edwards, the Cardiff Rugby president remembers: “I spoke to Barry last week and he was in great form so when I heard the news yesterday it was a great shock. He was a wonderful man, an incredible player and a great pal.
“I first heard about him when he was Gwendraeth Grammar. There was this phenomenal talent coming through under the rugby master Ray Williams and the great Carwyn James.
“We did actually play against each other when I was at school, we lost and spent the afternoon chasing the ball!
“His prowess was getting a lot of attention from television and radio, and he was then picked for Llanelli as a schoolboy
"He was a couple of years ahead of me and had already played for Wales but I remember a Probables versus Possibles match in November 1966. I was playing for the Probables with David Watkins at fly-half, and Barry played for the possibles.
"They beat us that day and Barry then got picked to play Australia. There was some chopping and changing over the next year but we got our chance together in 1967.
“We played the All Blacks for East Wales and half the team was from Cardiff. It was a 3-3 draw, I thought we had won but they scored a very try. Barry still almost pinched the win with a drop goal, which just scraped the bar. But on the back of that we both played for Wales versus New Zealand.
“By that time he had also come to Cardiff which was an unbelievable opportunity for me . He was an absolutely fantastic player and the fact that he came to Cardiff was so fortuitous for me.
“I remember one of our first games together for Cardiff was actually against Llanelli. His two brothers were in the Llanelli back-row and spent the game trying to take our heads off. They almost did!
“But Barry was just sensational. You never quite knew if he was concentrating because of his nonchalance but his vision, his running ability and his precision kicking was incredible. He was a master tactician and one of these new kickers, who would around the ball like in soccer and what you see in rugby today. He would dig his heels in, kick it in no time and land it on a six pence. His kicking game really was unbelievable.
“He was also very fast. He had these long legs and I used to consider myself a sprinter but we used to train together and he would always surprise people with his speed.
“We always had great fun at Cardiff but Barry was another great character and brought another dimension. He was just like he was on the pitch, so laid back!
“He fitted into the Cardiff style of play and joined a back-line with the likes of Gerald Davies, Maurice Richards Ceri Jones, DK Jones. But he transformed us and took us to another level.
“They were all great characters, we played with a smile on our faces with some fantastic games and huge crowds.
“I will never forget the time he convinced the club to let him wear a player mic so he commentate while playing!. I would pass him the ball and he would be commentating live - “I have two options here, I can kick through to the corner or I can take the ball forward, commit their fly-half and slip the ball to Gerald on the inside,” and he did exactly that!
“He will of course always be remembered for the way he mesmerised in a Wales and Lions jersey.
“Before that 1971 tour to New Zealand, he wasn’t kicking for Wales or Cardiff. But we went to Australia and New Zealand and I remember playing against New South Wales on a muddy, heavy pitch. We had a kick at goal, John Dawes asked if I wanted to kick, but I said ‘no, I don’t want it, why don’t you give it to Barry.’
“He strolled up, put the ball down like he was on the training pitch with nobody watching and kicked the thing 40 yards and over. So he went to New Zealand as the kicker and was phenomenal.
“His performances down there were simply sensational. We came back with a celebrity status but he was the golden boy. It was a team of greats but Barry’s kicking prowess, his vision and nonchalance gave us the confidence and was the catalyst for success.
“Nobody prepared us for that celebrity status when we returned and still had normal jobs to hold down.
“A year later he decided to retire. He put on a game with Carwyn James for the Urdd and half the Lions squad were involved. It was like a Barry John Lions XV versus a Carwyn Jones Lions XV.
“He came up to me in that game and said ‘I think this might be the last time we play together.’ He had such a sense of humour I thought he was pulling my leg. He used to do that kind of thing and it wasn’t that I didn’t believe him, I didn’t want to believe him. But that was it and he bowed out.
“He is undoubtedly one of the greatest to have ever played the game. He loved Cardiff and loved the city.”
Barry John passed away peacefully at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff on Sunday, February 4. The thoughts of everybody at Cardiff are with Barry’s family and friends at his difficult time.