Tributes have poured in for Wales and British & Irish Lions legend Phil Bennett, who passed away on Sunday aged 73.
Bennett was a cornerstone of the famous 1974 Lions squad that went an entire tour of South Africa unbeaten, and became the second Welshman to captain the side on their 1977 Tour of New Zealand.
Figures from across the game have shared their tributes and memories to celebrate Bennett’s contribution, both on and off the pitch.
Four-time Lions head coach Sir Ian McGeechan played alongside Bennett on both the 1974 and 1977 tours and described watching his friend as a “rare privilege”.
“Even at the time I thought that each outing was a rare privilege, and the passage of time has not dulled my appreciation of his genius,” he wrote in his Daily Telegraph column.
“As we all know from his unforgettable jinking runs for Wales, the Barbarians and the Lions, Benny was above all a superbly instinctive player, but he also had a great rugby brain on him.
We are saddened to learn of the death of Phil Bennett.
Phil toured with the Lions in 1977 and was a key member of the revered Invincibles of '74.
Our sympathies are with his family and friends at this time. He will be greatly missed.
⭐️ RIP Lion #506
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) June 12, 2022
“He thought deeply about the game, about how to do things differently, and was also able to articulate complex ideas about how he wanted the game to be played.
“Off the pitch, Phil was a tremendously popular tourist. A real comedian, he had a fantastic sense of humour and his wonderful mimicry of his great pal Bobby Windsor became a standing joke on that tour. He was a great story-teller, at his happiest with a pint in hand, with friends in a bar.”
For Wales, Bennett won 29 caps in a nine-year Test career, which coincided with one of Wales’ greatest-ever periods, as they won three Grand Slams in seven seasons.
And Wales great Jonathan Davies was one of many to be inspired by Bennett.
“I’m so upset to hear the passing of the great Phil Bennett. He was my inspiration as a kid he even invited me to go sprint training with him when I was in school,” he wrote on Instagram.
“He also called @neathrfc to tell them to give me the opportunity of first class rugby.
“He became a great friend and I will miss him greatly. My thoughts and prayers are with Pat his wife and rock and family and friends.”
Current and former players shared their tributes to the great man, including prop Rob Evans, and former centre Tom Shanklin.
Brought a tear to my eye. Not only one of the greatest on the pitch but one the most supportive and genuine blokes Iv ever met in the rugby world. Love to pat and all of the family. Rest easy up there Benny ❤️😢😔 https://t.co/zG1VGVb0dI
— Rob Evans (@Revsprop1) June 12, 2022
Phil Bennett, one of the greatest that’s ever lived. I was lucky enough to interview him with @davidflatman , we sat and listened in awe. A Legend
— Tom Shanklin (@TomShanklin) June 12, 2022
Bennett’s final Wales cap saw him lead his side to a 16-7 win against France at the Arms Park, scoring twice to help his side secure their second Grand Slam of the decade.
And figures from around the game, including Chairman of World Rugby Bill Beaumont added to a raft of tributes.
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. @WelshRugbyUnion @lionsofficial
— Sir Bill Beaumont (@BillBeaumont) June 12, 2022
Bennett also made 413 appearances for Llanelli RFC, now better known as Scarlets Rugby, and his former club were one of the first to pay tribute to the Wales legend.
Scarlets chairman Simon Muderack said: “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.”
It is with the deepest sadness that we announce the passing of club legend, former captain and Scarlets President Phil Bennett.
Phil passed away peacefully at his home on Sunday evening surrounded by his close family. pic.twitter.com/FQpacfONfD
— Scarlets Rugby (@scarlets_rugby) June 12, 2022
Legends of the game from across Europe were also saddened by the news, including former Lions Ronan O’Gara and Brian Moore.
‘Phil Bennett covering… chased by Alastair Scown…brilliant.. oh that’s brilliant’
Rest In Peace Phil Bennett. Thoughts with your family and friends.
— Ronan O Gara (@RonanOGara10) June 13, 2022
RIP Phil Bennett – a true legend of rugby and a humble and generous man. Farewell.
— Brian Moore (@brianmoore666) June 12, 2022
And celebrities and politicians from outside the sport recognised the impact he had on popular culture, including Welsh actor Michael Sheen and First Minister Mark Drakeford.
A part of Wales has been lost. Like some huge, beautiful coastal headland being claimed by the sea. Or perhaps slowly side-stepping into it. What a gift he had. And was. Seeing these tries now brings me to tears. Much love to the family. And thank you, sir.❤️#PhilBennettRIP https://t.co/VMJGjrTOVO
— michael sheen 💙 (@michaelsheen) June 12, 2022
Incredibly sad to hear this news. My thoughts are with Phil’s family and friends tonight. Genuinely one of the greatest to ever play the game – he will be missed by us all. https://t.co/tFwdJWs4bs
— Mark Drakeford (@PrifWeinidog) June 12, 2022
Phil Bennett’s genius summed up with these 3 dazzling side-steps in THAT try. What a player. 👇👇 https://t.co/yKdRlJW0hW
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) June 12, 2022