The rugby world is mourning the death of legendary Wales and British & Irish Lions fly-half Phil Bennett, one of the game’s all-time greatest players.
Bennett won 29 caps for Wales from 1969 to 1978, featuring in two Five Nations Grand Slam-winning teams and securing three Triple Crowns during his illustrious career.
He was captain for the second of those Grand Slam titles in 1978, scoring two tries as Wales completed the clean sweep of victories by beating France in Cardiff.
As well as dazzling in the red of Wales, Bennett also top-scored for the Lions during the unbeaten Tour to South Africa in 1974 before captaining the tourists in New Zealand in 1977.
Many also remember the role Bennett played in perhaps the greatest try ever scored for the Barbarians in the 1973 victory over New Zealand, demonstrating his incredible footwork to spark the move that ended in Gareth Edwards touching down.
Bennett’s skill was also on show for his sensational try for Wales against Scotland in 1977, which was described by commentator Bill McLaren as the try of the tournament.
The news of Bennett’s death at the age of 73 after battling a long illness was announced by Scarlets, where he spent 15 seasons, played 413 games and scored 2,535 points.
In a tribute on the club’s website, Scarlets Executive Chairman Simon Muderack said: “As a club, region and community, we are devastated by this news. 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.
“Phil was a hero and friend to so many people, not only in Llanelli and West Wales, but throughout the game and I am sure a lot of Scarlets supporters will have their own particular stories of the times they met and chatted to ‘Benny’. He loved the club and epitomised the values we hold true — humility and pride in our community.
“On behalf of everyone at the Scarlets, we send our heartfelt condolences to Pat, Steven. James and all of Phil’s family and friends at this incredibly sad time.”
And tributes from the rugby world and beyond have flooded in for Bennett.
Wales great Jonathan ‘Jiffy’ Davies issued a heartfelt message to his idol, saying: “I’m so upset to hear the passing of the great Phil Bennett.
“He was my inspiration as a kid, he even invited me to go sprint training with him when I was in school. He also called Neath RFC to tell them to give me the opportunity of first-class rugby.
“He became a great friend and I will miss him greatly. My thoughts and prayers are with Pat, his wife and rock, and family and friends.”
A statement from the WRU said: “Such sad news from Llanelli 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.”
Born in Carmarthenshire, Bennett’s career started at local club Felinfoel and he stayed involved for much of his life, working as a fitness coach and president and organising dozens of fundraising dinners.
Felinfoel RFC tweeted: “Sad news that club president and legend Phil Bennett has passed. Phil held Felinfoel in his blood and thoughts of all involved with the club today are with the family and friends.”
Former Scarlets prop Rob Evans said: “Brought a tear to my eye. Not only one of the greatest on the pitch but one the most supportive and genuine blokes I’ve ever met in the rugby world. Love to Pat and all of the family. Rest easy up there Benny.”
Four-time Lions head coach Sir Ian McGeechan, who played alongside Bennett on both the 1974 and 1977 tours, paid tribute to his former teammate in his Daily Telegraph column.
“Even at the time I thought that each outing was a rare privilege, and the passage of time has not dulled my appreciation of his genius,” McGeechan wrote.
“As we all know from his unforgettable jinking runs for Wales, the Barbarians and the Lions, Benny was above all a superbly instinctive player, but he also had a great rugby brain on him.”
Meanwhile, World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “Desperately sad to hear of Phil Bennett’s passing. One of the greats of Welsh and Lions rugby. Many a wonderful memory of touring with him in ’77. Lovely person. Condolences to his family and friends at this sad time.”
Bennett’s enduring legacy was also recognised by high profile figures outside of rugby, with Welsh actor Michael Sheen saying: “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.”
While First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Incredibly sad to hear this news. My thoughts are with Phil’s family and friends. Genuinely one of the greatest to ever play the game – he will be missed by us all.”