South East Wales

Funeral for Wales and Lions rugby player Gareth Williams

Gareth Williams Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Gareth Williams won five Wales caps between 1980 and 1982

Welsh rugby greats have paid their respects to former Wales and British and Irish Lions player Gareth Williams.

The 63-year-old, who won five Wales caps, died earlier this month after battling a rare nervous system disorder.

Hundreds attended his funeral at Coychurch on Thursday.

After the ceremony, friends and family gathered at Bridgend Ravens' Brewery Field, the home ground of his former club.

Among those attending were Welsh rugby greats JPR Williams and Rob Howley.

Image caption Gareth Williams in 1980

JPR Williams said: "Gareth showed bravery beyond rugby. He was a true gentleman and the number of people who turned up today is testament to how well loved he was."

Williams made a name for himself while at Bridgend RFC.

He played in four successive Welsh cup finals for the club, including the 1980 triumph over Swansea that saw him score a memorable try.

The 6ft 4in forward's skills saw him called up to Wales - making his debut against New Zealand in 1980.

Image caption Welsh rugby great JPR Williams at the Brewery Field where family and friends of former player Gareth “Sam” Williams gathered to remember him

The same year he also featured for the Lions and was on the field for the side's most memorable tries - when David Richards scored against a South African invitation team following a 30 phase move.

In 2012, he was diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy. The condition causes nerve cells in the brain to deteriorate over time, triggering problems with balance, movement and the autonomic nervous system.

Former Wales and Lion teammate Ian Stephens said his friend's diagnosis came as a big shock.

He said: "When we first heard it we couldn't believe it. He was such a fitness fanatic and in great physical shape.

"He fought it so hard. Never once did he moan or say 'why me'. He was such an inspiration."

Hundreds packed out Coychurch Crematorium to say their last goodbyes. It included a touching eulogy from former Bridgend teammate Meredydd James, which left mourners smiling through the tears.

James, who played as a prop, said: "The crem was totally full - five deep and people having to stand. As we expected people came from all over Wales - there was about 50 rugby internationals there.

"I wanted my eulogy to be uplifting because Sam wouldn't have wanted it to be dour. He loved the banter and had a good sense of humour."

Also joining the tributes was former Wales international player and coach Rob Howley, who was taken under Williams' wing as a young player.

Howley said: "He is gone but will never be forgotten."

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