Phil Bennett: Thousands pay tribute to Welsh rugby legend at memorial service

Report by ITV Wales News Correspondent Dean Thomas-Welch

Thousands of fans, friends and family members have paid a final tribute to Phil Bennett at the Welsh rugby legend's memorial in Llanelli.

The former Llanelli, Wales and Lions legend passed away at home surrounded by his family at the age of 73 on Sunday, June 12.

Current and former players, as well as rugby fans from far and wide, were at Parc y Scarlets for a public tribute in Bennett's honour. Many wore rugby jerseys of their choice to "honour Phil's incredible legacy".

'Benny', as he was so affectionately known, won 29 caps for Wales from 1969 to 1978, played for Llanelli 413 times and starred for the Lions on two tours: to South Africa in 1974 and New Zealand three years later.

Tributes were paid to Wales great Phil Bennett Credit: PA Archive

The public memorial saw tributes from the likes of friend and former teammate Delme Thomas.

He said: “Phil was something special, and it’s not just me that has said that, it’s the people that have come up to me recently. Not just as a great, but as a great friend.“What can I say about Phil? The greatest player that I have ever seen play the game of rugby.“When ‘The King’ Barry John retired in 1971, up stepped the boy from Felinfoel, and we never looked back.“I have never seen a performance like that in my life,” said Thomas, talking about Llanelli beating the All Blacks in 1972.

Delme Thomas

Yma O Hyd rang around Parc Y Scarlets as the service entered its closing stages, a song that has been long synonymous with rugby in the west of Wales.

Bennett’s ghost writer, Graham Thomas, said: "He was a smallish baby, small enough for the doctor to tell his father that it was unlikely that he would grow enough to be an athlete.

"His coach at Felinfoel said he was the smallest boy on the field, but he controlled the entire game.

"413 matches, 132 tries, 2532 points for his hometown club. Phil played 29 times for Wales, an achievement that seems modest by today’s standards, but took nine years to achieve.”

Robin McBryde

Thomas also recalled Bennett’s speech before a Wales versus England international, in which he said: “Look what these have done to Wales.

"They've taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our homes and live in them for a fortnight every year. What have they given us? Absolutely nothing.

"We've been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English — and that's who you are playing this afternoon.”

A church service in his home village of Felinfoel was being held after the public memorial.