When Phil Bennett reached his fiftieth birthday, his former Check team-mate Bobby Windsor declared, solely half in jest: “He’s nonetheless the very best fly-half in Wales.”
Invoice McLaren mentioned of the diminutive determine from Felinfoel: “They are saying down at Stradey that when you ever catch him you get to make a want.”
Few opposition flankers did catch him.
Learn subsequent:Wales rugby legend Phil Bennett dies aged 73
Considered one of Wales’ greatest-ever rugby gamers has handed away on the age of 73 after battling a protracted sickness. His profession numbers are superlative — 413 video games for Llanelli, scoring 2,535 factors, together with 131 tries; 29 Wales caps; two 5 Nations Grand slams and three Triple Crowns; eight Assessments for the Lions.
However statistics alone might by no means do justice to Phil Bennett’s majesty on a rugby subject.
Poetry in movement, his team-mate and previous pal Delme Thomas referred to as him.
Benny, as he was identified all through rugby, was a supreme game-controller blessed with a operating sport the gods might need signed off. When he sidestepped, you half-expected it to return with a screech. “I as soon as performed towards him at Stradey and he stepped a technique after which the opposite.” recalled former Swansea back-rower Geoff Atherton. “My legs grew to become tangled and I fell over in a heap. He might try this to individuals.”
Opponents didn’t know what climate to want for once they confronted the west Walian. If situations have been dangerous, he would kick for the corners and play for territory, basing his selections round what was attainable and utilizing his sharp rugby mind to information his group round. On dry pitches, he might open up defences with slashing breaks that usually featured that jagged step.
His greatness as a participant was captured forever along with his position in Gareth Edwards’ strive for the Barbarians towards New Zealand in 1973, when a splash of extravagant sidesteps within the shadow of his personal posts began the transfer that flowed into arguably the best landing the game has witnessed.
However he additionally took particular satisfaction from serving to Llanelli to victory over the All Blacks a couple of months earlier and he was irresistible for the Lions in South Africa the next summer season. For Wales, he arguably peaked in 1977, when he was Welsh rugby’s participant of the 12 months, although the next season his class and maturity shone by when main his nation to a Grand Slam, two tries in his remaining Check amounting to a classy worldwide sign-off.
All this left him a mild-mannered position mannequin for a technology. Jonathan Davies, who knew a factor or two about fly-half play himself, has referred to him as his inspiration rising up.
Loads of others felt the identical method.
Rewind 25 years when the Saturday night Inexperienced ’Un, The Sporting, ran a collection that concerned asking sports activities stars within the space to call and speak about their sporting heroes.
Benny proved such a well-liked selection it reached the stage the place one interviewee was requested to appoint another person as so many had been selecting the previous Wales captain. Very reluctantly, the chap agreed to take action.
Phil would have been embarrassed had he been advised that story, for by no means as soon as in 20 years of this author ghosting his column for the South Wales Night Publish did he boast about himself to me. It wasn’t his type.
Individuals picked up on how calmly he wore his fame, too.
As soon as, The Guardian’s Frank Keating requested Willie Davies, one of many two Swansea schoolboys who beat the All Blacks with the Whites in 1935, to call his favorite fashionable Wales fly-half. “Phil Bennett,” he mentioned, “good, and with out ego.” Spouse Dorothy then took the telephone. “Exactly,” she repeated, “good and no ego — Mr Bennett and my William have to be kindred spirits.”
And when requested for a remark to mark his previous pal and team-mate’s seventieth birthday, Ray ‘Chico’ Hopkins replied: “You may write something down as a result of he’s simply nice. After I was a bit low a good whereas in the past, he all the time used to ring me as much as see how I used to be. He’s a superb man, certainly one of my greatest mates.”
Benny’s assist for Chico was such that he used to say him in his column, “to choose him up a bit”.
Nor did such a generosity of spirit simply prolong to his buddies. There could be nods and some phrases for everybody. Assist if wanted.
One story, specifically, is a private favorite, with an area rugby membership as soon as ringing the sports activities desk at The Publish in a state of excessive nervousness. “We’ve been let down on the final minute by our after-dinner speaker,” the voice on the opposite finish of the telephone knowledgeable the paper’s then sports activities editor David Evans. “It’s going to be a catastrophe.
“Are you able to do something?”
Dave duly acquired in contact along with his paper’s star columnist, who agreed straight away to face in.
“However what about cash?” Benny was requested. “They cannot pay you a lot.”
“Inform them to purchase me a couple of beers,” got here the reply.
An amazing night was had by all.
Quick-forward to 2021 when the Scarlets have been stranded in South Africa amid the Covid pandemic. Regardless of his personal well being issues, the area’s president went out of his option to put in a name to their media and communications supervisor Rob Lloyd, enquiring concerning the well-being of gamers.
The story will shock solely those that didn’t know Phil Bennett, a person whose expertise was matched solely by his character.
It was a pleasure to look at him play.
Nevertheless it was even higher to know him off the pitch.
Really, certainly one of Welsh rugby’s brightest lights has gone out.