26.01.1945 - 25.01.2018
Wellington rugby's most capped player Graham Williams has passed away at the age of 72.
The openside flanker was one of the true greats of Wellington Rugby representing his province a record 174 times in a career that stretched from 1964 to 1976.
Williams was also an All Black playing five test matches and 18 matches in total in 1967 and 1968 scoring a 16 tries, including five in during a tour match against Tasmania.
His talents were first spotted at Rongotai College where he was a member of the first XV for three years from 1960 to 1963.
A year later then-Wellington coach Bill Freeman called Williams into the representative squad for a match against Manawatu in Palmerston North, kicking off a remarkable provincial career unlikely to be surpassed.
So fast was Williams' rise to prominence former All Black Nev MacEwan remembers teaching the young flanker at Rongotai in 1957-58 and then becoming his teammate in the Lions a few years later.
"When Graham was selected for the Wellington reps the pupil became the teacher and I thought it must be time for me to retire," MacEwan told Wellington Rugby. "He was an amazing player a great friend."
Joining the Wellington Football Club, Williams forged a reputation for toughness as a hard-nosed openside, but his teammates remember him as an unselfish player who always put his team first.
"I remember Colin Meads once told me Graham was pound for pound the toughest player he'd met," current Wellington Rugby Union president and former Lions teammate Brendan Gard'ner recalled. "Even early on at Wellington [Football Club] he was someone everyone looked up to and admired. He hated losing, loved winning, he was hard-nosed, but he was always a team man, he always put the team first."
Gard'ner said Williams was an excellent public speaker as captain of the Lions and an expert when it came to the breakdown.
"He was a great role model for the younger players, always there to provide help or support. He was a very good captain and a real stickler for the rules. He knew the rules better than most of the referees."
Williams enjoyed great success with the Wellington Lions including wins over the touring Springboks in 1965 and the British & Irish Lions and was still going strong in 1974 when he helped his province lift the Ranfurly Shield off South Canterbury.
CAPTION: Graham Williams reaches out for a try during Wellington's win over the touring British & Irish Lions at Athletic Park in 1966.
Veteran broadcaster and life-long Wellington Football Club member Keith Quinn remembers his good friend having his ear rucked off one Saturday while playing against Auckland.
"He actually appeared in the paper at the time and said it was so serious he had retired, but seven days later he was playing again. He was a tough bugger."
Williams was widely regarded as one of the best opensides in New Zealand through the late-1960s and his contemporaries in the All Blacks included a list of legends such as Meads, Brian Lochore, Kel Tremain, Ian Kirkpatrick, Earle Kirton, Fergie McCormick, Chris Laidlaw and Sid Going to name a few.
Williams would likely have played many more tests, but made himself unavailable for the All Blacks tour of South African in 1970 to focus on his family business and never wore the black jersey again.