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Tributes have poured in to “a Welsh rugby legend in every sense” after former British and Irish Lions fly-half Phil Bennett died after a long illness at the age of 73.
Bennett, affectionately known as ‘Benny’, played 413 times for Llanelli RFC from making his debut as an 18-year-old to his final appearance in 1981, captaining the side for six years of his 15-year spell.
Regarded as one of Wales’ greatest ever players, he won 29 caps for his country between 1969 and 1978, winning two Five Nations Grand Slams and three Triple Crowns.
“Such sad news from Llanelli this evening with the passing of Phil Bennett, a Welsh rugby legend in every sense and true gentleman,” said a statement from the Welsh Rugby Union.
“Our deepest condolences to Phil’s wife Pat, their family and his many, many friends. Rest in peace Benny.”
In addition to being regarded as one of the greatest players to wear the number 10 shirt for Wales and the Lions, for whom he was a star performer in the unbeaten tour of South Africa in 1974, he is fondly remembered for some sparkling performances in 20 appearances for the Barbarians.
Former club Scarlets said Bennett was: “A player with stardust in his boots, he possessed a sidestep that would mesmerise defenders — his jinking run to spark ‘the greatest try ever scored’ for the Barbarians against New Zealand in Cardiff in 1973 will live long in rugby folklore.”
In a Twitter post Barbarians hailed a “A true rugby legend & an iconic figure in our history”.
Bennett’s former club captain and Wales and Lions team-mate Delme Thomas described him as “the best fly-half I have ever seen on a rugby field.”
Scarlets executive chairman Simon Muderack, reflecting on Bennett’s key role in Llanelli dominating the domestic scene, including four Welsh Cup triumphs in the 1970s, said in a statement: “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.
“He loved the club and epitomised the values we hold true — humility and pride in our community.”
Current Wales international Richard Hibbard posted on Twitter: “Lost a true welsh great, rest in peace Phil. Team in the sky got one hell of a player.”
While a contemporary of his, Sir Bill Beaumont said: “Desperately sad to hear of Phil Bennett’s passing. One of the greats of Welsh & 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 first Lions tour was to South Africa in 1974 and he was at the heart of what was regarded as the greatest rugby tour in history.
The tourists won 21 of their 22 matches and the Test series 3-0, with one game drawn, and the squad became known as ‘The Invincibles’, with Bennett top-scoring with 103 points.
He was captain for the tour to New Zealand three years later in a series the hosts won 3-1, but Bennett again top-scored with 125 points.