Llandaff Cathedral was filled to overflowing as hundreds of mourners came to pay their final respects to 'The Prince of Wales Centres', Bleddyn Llewellyn Williams.
Williams, the last man to lead a Welsh side to victory over the All Blacks way back in 1953, died on 6 July at the age of 86 after losing his battle with cancer. He captained Cardiff, Wales and the British Lions during a career that saw him heralded as one of the greatest threequarters in the world game.
WRU President, Dennis Gethin, led the tributes to one of the greatest rugby players ever produced in Wales. Former Wales hooker, and 2008/2009 High Sheriff of South Glamorgan, Brian Rees, addressed the gathering after two of Bleddyn's three children. Lynne and Ashley, had paid their respects.
Bleddyn's love of the game, and his importance within it, was summed up perfectly by Rees in his address as he quoted a war time story from 'Rugger My Life', the autobiography written by Bleddyn in conjunction with the Western Mail's John Billot in 1956.
"Bleddyn had been involved in Operation Varsity, dropping troops and supplies behind enemy lines over the River Rhine in Germany. Although trained as a fighter pilot in the RAF on Tiger Moths, he had been sent to Phoenix, Arizona to re-train on gliders.
"He hit the mark perfectly with his plane and then spent six days in a slit trench with only an American parachute to keep him warm. When his commanding officer, Hugh Bartlett the former Sussex county cricket captain, came across him he first asked how he was and then enquired about the rugby game he had been selected for in Leicester that weekend.
"'I've got a fat chance of playing in that game now', said a disconsolate Williams. To which Bartlett simply said, 'don't worry, we'll get you there somehow'. There followed an epic journey and after being driven to the banks of the Rhine, taken across the river on a barge and flown from Eindhoven to Brize Norton, he was picked up by a company colleague.
"Another flight got him back to his base camp, where he was able to ease the worries of his newly wed wife, Violet, who believed he was dead. Only two of the glider pilots in his company survived the operation.
"He was then whisked up to Welford Road to play for Great Britain against the Dominions and duly scored a try to help his side win."
Gethin told the tale of one of the first requests made by former Wales coach Graham Henry when he arrived in 1998. Having heard from his father how good the Welsh centre pairing for the 1950 British Lions had been in New Zealand, he wanted to meet "the immortal Bleddyn Williams and Dr Jack Matthews".
"We all know about Bleddyn's great rugby exploits, but one of them will surely never be surpassed - captaining both club and country, Cardiff and Wales, to victory over the All Blacks in the same season," said Gethin.
"He was a man without conceit and the values he embodied are timeless. He was quick to exploit a try scoring opportunity, but slow to take the credit.
"He used to tell us at Cardiff that when he was playing with Jack Matthews they used to use the scissors move to good effect. The first time Jack would cut inside him, take the ball and then get smashed in the tackle.
"The second time would be the same and then on the third occasion he would use the dummy. Jack would still take the tackle, but Bleddyn would score the try.
"Not that he was prepared to take the credit. As he always said, 'those were Jack's tries, not mine'."
There were a record 185 tries in 283 games for his beloved Cardiff, including a club record 41 tries in the 1947-48 season. One of 12 children born to a family in Taffs Well, all eight brothers played for Cardiff.
In fact, between them they played more than 1500 games for the club and Lloyd also went on to captain Wales. Lloyd, Elwyn and Tony were at the funeral along with a host of other great rugby names.
Gareth Griffiths, who played with Bleddyn in both wins over the All Blacks in 1953, was the leading light among his contemporaries, while 1955 British Lions Russell Robins and Bryn Meredith were also in attendance.
Cardiff stalwart CD Williams was also there, as were other Blue and Black greats in Colin Howe, Peter Goodfellow, Gareth Edwards, Mervyn John and Robert Norster. Former Wales and Lions stars JPR Williams, Brian Price, John Dawes, Geoff Evans and Graham Price were also among the mourners. The WRU group chief executive, Roger Lewis, joined Gethin in paying his respects to one of the game's greats, while former WRU Secretary, David East, and Barbarians president, Mickey Steele-Bodger, who marked Bleddyn on his Wales debut against England in 1947, were also at the cathedral.
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