Reports this morning that legendary Wales fly-half Phil Bennett had died at the age of 73 have been debunked.
Social media was inundated with tributes with Wales legend Tom Shanklin writing on twitter: “Devastated to hear the passing of Phil Bennett. One of the very best players of his generation and more importantly an amazing man. Probably the best thing I’ve ever done was interview him about Rugby and his life with @davidflatman for @BBCScrumV#RIP”
David Owen, a close family friend of Bennett and his family, however did confirm that the Lions legend is unwell.
Bennett is one of the all-time greats of the world game, a dazzling player with ball in hand and possessor of an astute tactical brain and the most dazzling side-step in rugby history. Making his debut as a replacement for Gerald Davies against France in 1969, Bennett bounced around several positions including wing and centre before winning his first cap at fly-half in 1970.
His main competitor for the fly-half jersey at the time was Barry John, another legendary figure and the architect of the British and Irish Lions’ victory in New Zealand in 1971. Following John’s abrupt retirement from the game in 1972, Bennett formed a wonderful partnership with scrum-half Gareth Edwards that would span both caps for Wales and the Lions.
In 1974 Bennett had his own Lions Test series win to savour, as part of the unbeaten side that took the spoils in South Africa. Bennett was then entrusted with the captaincy in 1977 in New Zealand, but was unable to repeat the feat of a series wind despite the dominance of his forward pack.
In a Wales jersey, Bennett was part of the side that dominated northern hemisphere rugby in the 1970s. Alongside such greats as Edwards, Gerald Davies, JPR Williams, Derek Quinnell, John Dawes et al he won Five Nations Grand Slams in 1976 and 1978 as well as the Championship in 1975.
He was also revered in the red of Llanelli and the black and white hoops of the Barbarians. By the time of his retirement in 1978 he had played 16 seasons at Stradey Park, including their 9-3 victory over the All Blacks in 1974, and made 20 appearances during the glory years of the Barbarians.
It was his dancing feet, and the two most outrageous side-steps seen on the world stage, that began the road to the “greatest try ever scored” by Gareth Edwards during the Barbarians win over the All Blacks at Cardiff Arms Park in 1973.
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