Former British & Irish Lions and Wales captain Phil Bennett has died aged 73, it was announced on Sunday, as tributes poured in for a flyhalf whose “magic” brought “spectators out of their seats”.
Bennett featured 29 times for his country, winning the Five Nations outright on three occasions and started eight Tests for the Lions against South Africa and New Zealand.
“It is with the deepest sadness that we announce the passing of club legend, former captain and Scarlets president Phil Bennett,” the Welsh club said.
“Phil passed away peacefully at his home on Sunday evening surrounded by his close family.
“Our thoughts are with Phil’s wife Pat, sons Steven and James, family and friends at this incredibly sad time.”
Bennett was best known for his creative attacking skill and is remembered for a rousing pre-match speech made to his Wales teammates before 1977’s Five Nations win over England at Twickenham.
His Test debut made the history books as he was rugby’s first replacement, substituting the injured Gerald Davies at centre for his international bow as a 20-year-old in the 1969 defeat by France in Paris.
“He was to rugby what Botham was to cricket, Cruyff to football and Nastase to tennis,” Bennett’s captain on the Lions’ 1974 tour, Willie John McBride, told the Scarlets website.
“He had a certain magic, an undefinable quality. He had the audacity to attempt the unusual and to lift spectators out of their seats,” the ex-Ireland lock added.
Bennett led the Lions on the 1977 tour to face the All Blacks following Mervyn Davies’ injury but the travelling side lost the series 3-1.
At club level, his greatest result came in Llanelli’s 9-3 victory over the touring All Blacks in 1972.
After retiring from all forms of the game in 1981 he became an after-dinner speaker, was a pundit for TV and radio and named president of Llanelli and the Scarlets.
“Brought a tear to my eye,” ex-Scarlets and Wales prop Rob Evans posted on Twitter.
“Not only one of the greatest on the pitch but one the most supportive and genuine blokes I’ve ever met in the rugby world.
“Rest easy up there Benny,” he added.
A tribute also came from former Scotland scrumhalf Andy Nicol.
“So sad. Benny was some player and some man,” Nicol said on Twitter.
“So generous with his time and a brilliant storyteller. Thoughts with his family,” he added.
In 2005, Bennett was admitted into World Rugby’s Hall of Fame, joining his former halfback partner Gareth Edwards, who had been inducted eight years earlier.
© Agence France-Presse