Ex-Wales and British and Irish Lions fly-half Phil Bennett has died at the age of 73, his former club Scarlets have announced.
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.
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 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.”
The statement went on to quote Bennett’s former club captain and Wales and Lions team-mate Delme Thomas, who said: “He was the best fly-half I have ever seen on a rugby field.”
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 dominating the domestic scene, including four Welsh Cup triumphs in the 1970s, he continued: “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.”
The Welsh Rugby Union described Bennett as a “legend” and a “true gentleman”.
It said on Twitter: “Such sad news from Llanelli this evening 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.”
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.
Paying tribute to Bennett on their website, the Lions said: “The fly-half is widely recognised as one of the all-time greats of the game and dazzled in both the red of Wales and red of The British & Irish Lions at the height of his career in the 1970s.”