Phil Bennett, the Wales flyhalf “with stardust in his boots” who started the move which led to one of rugby’s greatest tries, has died. He was 73.
His death was confirmed Sunday by his former club Scarlets, which did not specify a cause.
Bennett, who captained Wales and the British and Irish Lions, was regarded as one of the greatest-ever players in his position. He played 413 times in a 15-year career with the Llanelli rugby club, known as the Scarlets, after making his debut aged 18. For six years he was captain.
Bennett is regarded as one of Wales’ greatest all-time players. He played 29 tests for Wales, winning two Grand Slams in the Five Nations Championship and three triple crowns.
In a statement, the Scarlets described Bennett as “a player with stardust in his boots.”
“He possessed a sidestep that would mesmerize 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.”
Bennett’s former Llanelli, Wales and Lions teammate Delme Thomas described him as “the best flyhalf I have ever seen on a rugby field.”
Bennett played soccer and was offered a contract with Swansea Town before switching to rugby where his skills were developed by the great Wales coach Carwyn James.
He played his first test for Wales in 1969 against France as a replacement for Gerald Davies, becoming the first substitute for Wales in international rugby.
His path to the Wales No. 10 jersey at first was blocked by the great Barry John. But John’s early retirement in 1972 aged 27 allowed Bennett to take over at flyhalf.
In 1973 he played for the Barbarians against the New Zealand All Blacks and sparked what is still regarded by many as the greatest try in rugby history. Fielding the ball deep in his own quarter, Bennett produce three dazzling side-steps, evaded four All Blacks defenders and set in motion the move which resulted in a length-of-the-field try finished off by Gareth Edwards.
He toured South Africa in 1974 with the Lions team which won 21 of 22 matches and drew the other, winning the test series 3-0 and becoming known as “the Invincibles.”
He was later president of the Scarlets, which unveiled a statute in his honor in April.
Scarlets executive chairman Simon Muderack said the club was devastated by the news of Bennett’s death.
“Wherever the Scarlets travel around the world, people mention the name Phil Bennett,” Muderack said. “He was an icon of our sport, a rugby superstar but someone who always remembered his roots.
“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.'”