AFP
Wire Service
3 minute read
13 Jun 2022
8:13 am

RIP Phil Bennett — architect of rugby’s ‘greatest ever try’

AFP

After hanging up his boots Bennett became an after-dinner speaker, and was a pundit for both television and radio.

Phil Bennett in 1974. Picture: Evening Standard/Getty Images

Phil Bennett was considered to be the finest fly-half to play for Wales, pivotal to the country’s glory years during the 1970s who became a cult figure due to a grievance-laced pre-match speech before facing England, the old enemy.

His swiveling hips, beautiful passing and spark to play the game expansively followed in the footsteps of Cliff Morgan and Barry John and set a template for free-flowing Welsh number 10s for decades to come. 

Bennett, who died aged 73 on Sunday, 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.

His Test debut made the history books as Bennett, fondly known as ‘Benny’, 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 to France in Paris.

Bennett had to wait until 1973 to start a full Five Nations campaign at outside-half following John’s premature retirement.

With half-back partner Gareth Edwards, regarded as the finest scrum-half to play the game, the pair led Wales to a Grand Slam title before his rousing pre-game team talk in 1977.

Ahead of facing England, Bennett addressed a Welsh dressing room in the bowels of the National Stadium in Cardiff.

“Look what these bastards have done to Wales. They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our homes and live in them for a fortnight every year. What have they given us?” he said.

“Absolutely nothing. We’ve been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English – and that’s who you are playing this afternoon,” Bennett ended before the 14-9 victory.

Greatest ever try

He retired from Test duty a year later, winning a second Grand Slam with a win over Les Bleus, converting one of his two tries.

His form for Wales and his crucial part in Llanelli’s 9-3 win over New Zealand two years earlier earned him a place on the Lions’ tour to South Africa in 1974.

He scored 103 points during ‘The Invincibles’ trip to the apartheid-hit nation, including a 50-metre solo effort which highlighted his ability to embarrass opponents with ball in hand as the representative outfit won 21 out of 22 games before drawing the fourth Test in Johannesburg.

Bennett was named Lions skipper for the 1977 tour to New Zealand but unlike three years earlier he was without his trusted inside man in the now-retired Edwards and they lost the series 3-1 as well as a one-off Test to Fiji on their way home.

As well as his club, country and the Lions, Bennett played for the Barbarians on 21 occasions, the most famous match being the 1973 victory over the All Blacks where he set-up Edwards for a superb try.

Bennett picked up the ball on his own line, side-stepped three Kiwis, before Edwards dived over in the opposite corner for arguably the greatest try ever scored in rugby union.

After hanging up his boots Bennett became an after-dinner speaker, was a pundit for both television and radio and was named president of Llanelli and the Scarlets.