John Lewis Williams
- 488Wallaby Number
John Williams was a lightning fast winger who scored one of Australia’s most important Test tries in front of 63,000 roaring Springbok fans at the famed Ellis Park.
In actual fact, lightning fast likely does not do justice to Williams’ speed. After leaving Sydney’s Newington College in 1958, he played with Drummoyne club before skipping the 1962 rugby season to concentrate on athletics. He ran 100 yards in 9.6 seconds on a grass track and trained with Australia’s 1962 Empire Games squad but missed the final selection cut.
Williams returned to rugby the following year and joined Randwick where he immediately flourished on the end of the Galloping Greens’ skilful backline. Within a few weeks Williams celebrated his representative debut for New South Wales against Victoria with two tries and from there he was selected, firstly for the trials for the Wallaby tour to South Africa, and secondly in the touring squad itself. Ahead of the tour, Williams looked all set to make his Test debut against England in Sydney but strained a thigh muscle during kicking practice two days before the match and was forced to withdraw.
Williams was one of four wingers who went to South Africa and once fit was immediately recalled for his delayed Test debut, at Loftus Versfeld. Williams created the sole Australian try for Ken McMullen in the 3-14 loss but then suffered a bout of severe bronchitis that put him out for five games, including the second Test victory in Cape Town. Fully recovered, Williams returned for the third Test with the series locked at 1-1. It was in Johannesburg that Williams scored the only try in a tight match. AC Parker saw it: ‘From a lineout in the South African half Boyce threw deep to Heming, who had taken up the number seven position. He palmed down to Crittle, who had peeled off in the French manner. The lock forward made ground on a diagonal course before turning his back and slipping the ball to [Dick] Marks. Dave Stewart should certainly have tackled the outside centre but went high and missed him, and Marks ran hard to commit [Gert] Cilliers before timing his pass to Williams to a nicety.’ The flying winger sped the final 20 metres and with the defence converging Williams flung himself over the try line just inches inside the right-hand corner-flag. Australia won 11-9 and South Africa suffered back-to-back home defeats for the first time that century.
Williams’ international career ended after his three Tests on that tour. He had a slow start to the 1964 season following ear surgery and had to fight his way back from Randwick reserves to eventually play for Australia against the Rest in the final Wallaby trial. He scored a try in that match but was omitted from the 22-man squad to tour New Zealand.
Williams won his first Test cap on the right wing in the 1st Test, 3-14 loss to South Africa in Pretoria. He was unavailable for the second Test but returned at Ellis Park for the third Test where he scored his debut try. Williams played his final international in the 4th Test, 6-22 loss at Port Elizabeth.