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Welsh rugby says an emotional farewell to ‘Benny’

Memorial service for Phil Bennett OBE, former Llanelli, Wales & Lions player at Parc y Scarlets.

Welsh rugby says an emotional farewell to ‘Benny’

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They turned up in their thousands, as they always did for the 15 years he wore with such distinction the red shirt of Llanelli, and the Scarlets fans delighted in giving one of their all-time greats a final standing ovation.

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Phil Bennett captured the hearts of minds of everyone who saw him play for his home-town team, Wales, the British & Irish Lions and the Barbarians and the service of remembrance at Parc Y Scarlets preceded a more private funeral at Holy Trinity, in Felinfoel.

Fifteen years on from the emotionally charged funeral at Stradey Park for another favourite son of the Scarlets, Ray Gravell, there was a huge outpouring of love and respect for a man who lit up the game whenever he tied up his bootlaces.

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The guard of honour through which his coffin was carried onto the pitch at the club he served as president up to his death at the age of 73 on 12 June was proof enough of his standing in the game.

The president of the Welsh Rugby Union, Gerald Davies, who played in two Grand Slam teams with Phil, was among the line-up, so too was Sir Gareth Edwards, his half-back partner in all 26 starts he made for Wales in 29 caps and then four more for the Lions in South Africa in 1974.

WRU board members Ieuan Evans and Anthony Buchanan were also there, along with current Scarlets stars Jonathan Davies, Ken Owens, Leigh Halfpenny and Scott Williams.

Fran Cotton, who played with him on the 1974 tour, joined those remembering their playing colleague, along with nine members of the Llanelli side (Roger Davies, Roy Bergiers, Roy Thomas, Tony Crocker, Barry Llewellyn, Tom David, Chico Hopkins, Derek Quinnell and Delme Thomas), as well as four replacements (Gwyn Ashby, Selwyn Williams, Bryan Llewellyn and Meirion Davies), that beat the All Blacks on 30 October, 1972.

There was even a message from the captain of the All Blacks on that day of days, Ian Kirpatrick.

“We were deeply saddened in New Zealand to hear of Phil’s passing. I was lucky to play against him eight times and that was enough time for me to realise how good he was – he was something else. He had the skills and the ability to produce greatness,” said Kirkpatrick

Felinfoel was where the former Welsh Grand Slam captain and Lions skipper was born, bred and lived for most of his life. A statue to the most famous son from the village was unveiled a few months ago and the community lined the streets to pay their final respects.

Delme Thomas, the man who led Llanelli to their famous 9-3 victory over New Zealand at Stradey Park 50 years ago, helped Phil to unveil the statue and he was the man who paid the ultimate tribute to his former clubmate in the ceremony at Parc Y Scarlets.

“It is a great honour to stand her to say a few words about this great little man. I first set eyes on him in the mid-sixties when he first came into the Stradey Park dressing room,” Thomas told the 3,000+ crowd.

“He became the greatest player I have ever seen playing the game of rugby. That is a big thing for me to say because I played with so many great players, but Phil was something special.

“When Barry John returned from the 1971 Lions tour to New Zealand and soon after dropped the bombshell he was going to retire, most people thought Welsh rugby was doomed. But up stepped the boy from Felinfoel and we never looked back.

“Not only was he a great rugby player, he was a great friend and a great gentleman. He was so proud to be a village boy and he never forgot where he was brought up – he never said he was from Llanelli, it was always Felinfoel.”

The crowd gave the former Llaneli and Wales captain a rousing ovation for his moving tribute and he paused poignantly at Phil’s coffin before returning to his seat, bowing his head and touching the coffin in a final farewell.

Memorial service for Phil Bennett OBE, former Llanelli, Wales & Lions player at the Parc y Scarlets.

Graham Thomas, who for 25 years ghost-wrote Phil’s newspaper columns in firstly the Swansea Evening Post and then the Sunday Mirror, gave everyone an insight into Phil the player and Phil the man. His eulogy detailed how Phil had led ‘a wonderful life’.

The pair penned 1,000 columns over a quarter-of-a-century and Thomas also ghosted a second autobiography of the great man.

“I was proud to call him a good friend and a trusted colleague. We wrote more than 1 million words together, but today’s seem the most significant,” said Thomas.

“Steve Fenwick, who played in two Grand Slam sides with Phil, told me the story of when he saw him play for the first time. It was in a Wales Youth trial at Taffs Well and Phil was the smallest player on the pitch, yet had his future Wales and Lions teammate drooling over his performance – ‘who the hell is that?’ Fenwick asked his friends.

“He played 413 times for Llanelli over 15 years. He was an amateur throughout that time, working as a steelworker, sales rep, sports shop owner and council employee during his career. Jonathan Davies, another great Welsh outside half, told the story last week of how he used to go into Phil’s shop just to stare at him.

“He was involved in some of the most iconic and emblematic tries of his and any era – starting the great try for the Barbarians in their win over New Zealand in 1973 and finishing the score for Wales at Murrayfield against the Scots that earned another Grand Slam in 1977.”

Memorial service for Phil Bennett OBE, former Llanelli, Wales & Lions player at Parc y Scarlets.

The Rev. Canon Huw Mosford, who led the service of remembrance, reckoned Phil would have hated all the fuss that was going on around his funeral.

“This legend of rugby was a humble and generous man. He wouldn’t have wanted this outpouring of appreciation,” said Canon Mosford.

“But we are all here to show our gratitude. He was a very proud Welshman and the whole of Wales mourns his loss. In Phil, God gave us a great gift, and ‘Benny’ shone a great light on all of us.”

Once again, the WRU sends heartfelt thanks and condolences to Phil’s wife of 52-years, Pat, and her sons, Stephen and James, and the rest of her family and friends.

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