Welsh rugby is mourning the loss of one of its greatest players following the death of Phil Bennett, the former Scarlets, Wales and British and Irish Lions fly-half.
Bennett passed away peacefully at his home on Sunday evening surrounded by his close family. He was 73.
Admired across the world for his remarkable sidestep and affectionately known as ‘Benny’, Bennett was a central part of Wales’ dominant period of success during the 1970s, making his debut at the age of 20 and going on to win two Grand Slams and 29 caps for his country. His motivational speech ahead of a Five Nations game against England in 1977 has gone down in history.
“Look what these bastards 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, controlled and punished by the English – and that’s who you are playing this afternoon.”
With the Lions, Bennett was a pivotal part of the ‘Invincibles’ squad in South Africa in 1974, scoring a superb try in the second Test after collecting Fergus Slattery’s pass and breaking clear from within his own half. Bennett would go on to captain the Lions on the 1977 tour of New Zealand three years later.
Willie John McBride, the great Lions captain from 1974, said of Bennett: “He was to rugby what Botham was to cricket, Cruyff to football and Nastase to tennis. He had a certain magic, an undefinable quality. He had the audacity to attempt the unusual and to lift spectators out of their seats.”
Bennett played his part too in ‘the greatest try of all time’ scored by the Barbarians against the All Blacks in 1973, collecting the ball in his own 22 and producing a couple of astonishing sidesteps which rooted defenders to the ground to start the move which led to Gareth Edwards’ famous try.