Tributes flood in for 'legend on and off the field', Phil Bennett

  • Video report by ITV Wales journalist Cari Davies

Tributes have poured in to Phil Bennett after the former Wales, Llanelli and Lions fly-half died at the age of 73.

Across the world, people inside and outside the rugby community have paid tribute to “a Welsh rugby legend in every sense”.

Bennett played 413 times for Llanelli RFC after making his debut as an 18-year-old, making his final appearance in 1981, and captaining the side for six years.

In that time he won 29 caps for Wales, winning two Five Nations Grand Slams and three Triple Crowns.

Bennett was part of Wales' golden generation of the 1970s Credit: PA

In a statement, the Welsh Rugby Union said: “Such sad news from Llanelli this evening with the passing of Phil Bennett, a Welsh rugby legend in every sense and true gentleman.

“Our deepest condolences to Phil’s wife Pat, their family and his many, many friends. Rest in peace Benny.”

His former club side the Scarlets said Bennett was: “A player with stardust in his boots, he possessed a sidestep that would mesmerise defenders — his jinking run to spark ‘the greatest try ever scored’ for the Barbarians against New Zealand in Cardiff in 1973 will live long in rugby folklore.”

In addition to being regarded as one of the greatest players to wear the number 10 shirt for Wales and the Lions, 'Benny' is fondly remembered for some sparkling performances in 20 appearances for invitational side the Barbarians.

The Barbarians hailed a “A true rugby legend & an iconic figure in our history”.

Bennett’s former club captain and Wales and Lions team-mate Delme Thomas described him as “the best fly-half I have ever seen on a rugby field.”

Bennett was adored at his hometown club in Llanelli Credit: PA

Reflecting on Bennett’s key role in Llanelli, Scarlets executive chairman Simon Muderack said: “Wherever the Scarlets travel around the world, people mention the name Phil Bennett.

“He was an icon of our sport, a rugby superstar, but someone who always remembered his roots. There was no finer ambassador of Scarlets Rugby than Phil, a player respected across the rugby world, both during his career and long after he finished playing.

“He loved the club and epitomised the values we hold true — humility and pride in our community.”

Bennett’s first Lions tour was to South Africa in 1974 and he was at the heart of what was regarded as the greatest rugby tour in history.

Bennett is an iconic figure of the British and Irish Lions sides of the 1970s Credit: PA

The tourists won 21 of their 22 matches and the Test series 3-0, with one game drawn, and the squad became known as ‘The Invincibles’, with Bennett top-scoring with 103 points.

He was captain for the tour to New Zealand three years later in a series the hosts won 3-1, but Bennett again top-scored with 125 points.

Chairman of World Rugby, who toured with Bennett for the Lions in 1977 said: “Desperately sad to hear of Phil Bennett’s passing. One of the greats of Welsh & Lions rugby.

“Many a wonderful memory of touring with him in 77. Lovely person. Condolences to his family and friends at this sad time.”

As well as his ability, many have paid tribute to Bennett's personality.

Former international referee Nigel Owens tweeted: "Not only a legend on the field but the very best of them off it as well."

Actor Michael Sheen tweeted: "A part of Wales has been lost. Like some huge, beautiful coastal headland being claimed by the sea. Or perhaps slowly side-stepping into it.

"What a gift he had. And was. Seeing these tries now brings me to tears. Much love to the family. And thank you, sir."

Beyond his rugby career, Bennett was also an accomplished athlete in a number of other sports.

Working in the local steel works during his teens, he was offered a trial by West Ham United as a promising schoolboy footballer.

He also played cricket for Felinfoel Cricket Club, where he went on to serve as president fr a number of years.

Phil Bennett (front row, second in from the left) lining up for Felinfoel Cricket Club

A statement from Felinfoel Cricket Club on Facebook read: "The club is saddened to hear of the passing of our club president Phil Bennett.

"Not only a great rugby player but a great cricketer too. Our thoughts are with Pat, Stephen, James and families at this difficult time."

The Scarlets have confirmed that anybody wishing to leave a tribute to Bennett can do so at the gates of Parc y Scarlets.