Graham Williams, tough All Blacks flanker, dead at 72

January 25, 2018

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Graham Williams, a famously rugged All Blacks flanker who once tried to return to the field after his ear was torn off in a provincial match, has died. He was 72.

New Zealand Rugby said Thursday that Williams, who played five tests among 18 matches for New Zealand, scoring 16 tries, had been suffering from motor neurone disease and frontal lobe dementia.

He first toured Britain and France in 1967, playing in all four tests and toured Australia in 1968, playing in the second international.

Williams made up for his relatively small stature — he stood barely 1.83 meters (6 feet) and weighed 90 kilograms (198 pounds) — with speed, fitness and toughness. He would likely have played more often for the All Blacks but was unavailable for the 1970 tour to South Africa for business reasons.

Williams played 174 matches for Wellington province — a record that still stands — and took part in wins over the Springboks in 1965 and British and Irish Lions in 1966.

His toughness became legend one Saturday at Eden Park when, playing for Wellington against Auckland, his right ear was torn off.

“When he lost his ear against Auckland I remember him holding it on,” Williams’ former All Blacks and Wellington teammate Andy Leslie said. “It was lying in his hand when he got to the trainer on the sideline at Eden Park and he asked if they could tape it back on.”

Williams was eventually persuaded to go to hospital where his ear was sewn back.

He announced his retirement after the incident but was talked out of it by teammates and played again the following weekend.

Williams would have turned 73 on Friday.

Update hourly