“A Welsh rugby legend in every way” was honored after former British and Irish Lions fly-half Phil Bennett died aged 73 after a long illness.
Bennett, affectionately known as “Benny”, played 413 times for Llanelli RFC, from his debut as an 18-year-old to his last appearance in 1981, where he captained the team for six years of his 15-year tenure.
He is considered one of the greatest Welsh players of all time. Between 1969 and 1978 he won 29 caps for his country and won two Five Nations Grand Slams and three Triple Crowns.
“Such sad news from Llanelli tonight of the death of Phil Bennett, a Welsh rugby legend in every respect and a true gentleman,” read a statement from the Welsh Rugby Union.
“Our deepest condolences go to Phil’s wife Pat, her family and his many, many friends. Rest in peace Benny.”
Not only is he considered one of the greatest players to wear the number 10 shirt for Wales and the Lions, for whom he was a star in the unbeaten South Africa tour in 1974, he is also fondly remembered for some brilliant performances in 20 appearances for the barbarians.
Former club Scarlets said Bennett was: “As a player with stardust in his boots, he possessed an infidelity that would mesmerize defenders – his mad run to create ‘the greatest try of all time’ for the Barbarians against New Zealand in Cardiff in 1973 triggering will long live in rugby folklore.”
In a Twitter post, Barbarians hailed a “true rugby legend and an iconic figure in our history”.
Bennett’s former club captain and Wales and Lions team-mate Delme Thomas described him as “the finest full-back I’ve ever seen on a rugby pitch”.
Scarlets chief executive Simon Muderack said in a statement of Bennett’s key role in Llanelli’s dominance of the domestic scene, including four Welsh Cup victories in the 1970s: “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 better ambassador for Scarlets Rugby than Phil, a player respected throughout the rugby world, both during his career and long after he retired.
“He loved the club and embodied our values - humility and pride in our community.”
Current Wales international Richard Hibbard wrote on Twitter: “Lost a true Welsh great, rest in peace Phil. Team in the Sky have a darn fine player.”
Sir Bill Beaumont, a contemporary of his, said: “We are very sorry to hear of Phil Bennett’s death. One of the greats of Welsh & Lions Rugby.
“Many wonderful memories from touring with him in 77. Lovely Person. Condolences to his family and friends at this sad time.”
Bennett’s first Lions tour was to South Africa in 1974 and he was at the center of what was considered the greatest rugby tour in history.
The Tourists won 21 of their 22 games and the Test series 3-0, a one-game draw, and the squad became known as “The Invincibles” with Bennett’s best score of 103 points.
He captained for the tour to New Zealand three years later in a series the hosts won 3–1, but Bennett was again the top scorer with 125 points.