Welsh rugby mourns 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 immediate family. He was 73.
Admired the world over for his remarkable sidestep and known affectionately as ‘Benny’, Bennett was a central part of Wales’ dominant period of success in the 1970s, debuting at the age of 20 and winning two Grand Slams and 29 caps. for his country. His motivational speech before a Five Nations game against England in 1977 has gone down in history.
“Look what these bastards have done to Wales. They have taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our houses and live in them for a fortnight every year. What have they given us? Absolutely nothing. Exploited, controlled and punished by the English – and that’s who you play this afternoon.”
With the Lions, Bennett was a crucial part of the ‘Invincibles’ squad in South Africa in 1974, scoring an excellent try in the second Test after collecting the pass from Fergus Slattery and running away from inside his own half. Bennett would become captain of the Lions three years later on the 1977 tour of New Zealand.
Willie John McBride, the great Lions captain of 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 indefinable quality. He had the audacity to to try the unusual and lift the spectators from their seats.”
Bennett also played his part in ‘the greatest effort of all time’, scored by the Barbarians against the All Blacks in 1973, collecting the ball into his own 22 and making some astonishing sidesteps that razed defenders to the ground. move that led to Gareth Edwards’ famous attempt.