Barry John (born 6 January 1945 in Cefneithin, Wales) is a Welsh rugby union footballer, considered by many to be the greatest fly-half in the sport's history. In a relatively short career, he took the fly-half game to a new peak and in the process became known simply as "the King".
John arrived at international level in circumstances that would have crippled a lesser player with nerves. He replaced the mercurial David Watkins in 1967, who went north to rugby league when still a student at Trinity College, Carmarthen. He formed a devastating combination in the Welsh team with the scrum-half Gareth Edwards. Within a year a combination of John's cocksure confidence and ability to destroy defences saw Barry become a Lion in South Africa.
In the first test he broke his collarbone and was forced to return home. He would more than make up for his disappointment four years later on the 1971 tour to New Zealand. The British Lions series victory over the All Blacks made them the first (and so far only) Lions to win a series in New Zealand and stemmed from Barry John's boots.
In the First Test, under the orders of the Lions coach Carwyn James (also from Cefneithin), John terrorised New Zealand's fullback Fergie McCormick with ruthless tactical kicking. McCormick crumbled under the pressure and the Lions won the vital first test. McCormick never played for the All Blacks again. Despite losing the second test, the Lions won the third test and drew the fourth to win the series. John was given his regal nickname, scoring 30 of the Lions 48 points over the four matches and cementing his reputation as one of the game's greatest players.
One year later, at the age of only 27, with only 25 Welsh caps, Barry John retired from the game. Such was the strength of Welsh rugby union in the '70s that John's premature departure could easily, but wrongly, be forgotten. The pressure of fame was cited as the reason for his decision to quit, somewhat surprisingly for a man of such swaggering confidence on the field.
How does he compare to modern greats such as Jonny Wilkinson? Such comparisons are always difficult. Jonny is a much more successful kicker but still has some way to go to equal Barry's domination of games. Most people remember Barry John for his ghostly runs through the heart of the toughest defences. Aficionados also remember with relish his unmatched tactical two-footed kicking and his ability to launch his centres. (Mike Gibson played the best Rugby of his career outside Barry.)
Barry John was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in the first draft. (1997)