Former Wales and British & Irish Lions fly-half Phil Bennett has died aged 73, his former club Scarlets has announced.
Bennett, affectionately known as ‘Benny’, played 413 times for Llanelli RFC from his 18-year-old debut until his final appearance in 1981, captaining the team for six of his 15 years.
Considered one of Wales’ greatest ever players, he earned 29 caps for his country between 1969 and 1978, winning two Five Nations Grand Slams and three Triple Crowns.
Paying tribute to Bennett on their website, the Scarlets said in a statement: “A player with stardust in his boots, he possessed a sidestep that would mesmerize defenders – his race to unleash ‘the greatest never-scored try” for the Barbarians against New Zealand in Cardiff in 1973 will live long in rugby folklore.
The statement went on to quote Bennett’s former club captain and Wales and Lions team-mate Delme Thomas as saying: “He was the best fly-half I have ever seen on a rugby pitch. .”
Scarlets executive chairman Simon Muderack said: “As a club, region and community, we are devastated by this news.”
Reflecting on Bennett’s key role in Llanelli’s dominance on the national stage, including four Welsh Cup victories in the 1970s, he continued: “Wherever the Scarlets travel around the world, people mention Phil’s name. 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 around the world of rugby, both during his career and long after he is done playing.
“Phil was a hero and a friend to so many, not just in Llanelli and West Wales but throughout the game and I’m sure many Scarlets supporters will have their own particular stories about the times when they met and chatted with ‘Benny’. .
“He loved the club and embodied the values we hold – humility and pride in our community.
“On behalf of everyone at the Scarlets, we send our deepest condolences to Pat, Steven, James and all of Phil’s family and friends at this incredibly sad time.”
The Welsh Rugby Union described Bennett as a “legend” and a “true gentleman”.
He said on Twitter: “Such sad news from Llanelli tonight with the passing of Phil Bennett, a Welsh rugby legend in every way and a true gentleman. Our deepest condolences to Phil’s wife Pat at their family and many friends Rest in peace Benny.
Bennett’s first Lions tour was in South Africa in 1974 and he was at the heart of what was considered the greatest rugby tour in history.
The Tourists won 21 of their 22 games and the Test series 3-0, with one draw, and the team became known as “The Invincibles”, with Bennett leading with 103 points.
He was captain for the New Zealand tour three years later in a series the hosts won 3-1, but Bennett was again top scorer with 125 points.
Paying tribute to Bennett on their website, the Lions said: “The fly-half is widely recognized as one of the game’s greatest of all time and dazzled in both Wales Red and Red British and Irish Lions at the height of his career in the 1970s.