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October-November 2018 | Features

Land of my fathers

Land of my fathers

Phil Bennett is regarded as one of the greatest rugby players of all time. Earlier this year, the Welshman spoke at the Rotary conference in Torquay. Dave King tackled him on rugby and his charity work.

Mention the name Phil Bennett, and for rugby fans the world over there is one moment which encapsulates the silky skills of this enigmatic Welsh fly-half.

It was the Barbarians against the mighty All Blacks at Cardiff Arms Park in 1973 when Phil fielded a long kick just five metres from the Babas’ try line.

“Brilliant,” screamed the BBC commentator, Cliff Morgan, as Phil side-stepped twice to evade four All Black players, before JPR Williams, John Pullin, John Dawes, Tom David and then Derek Quinnell set up Gareth Edwards, who spectacularly dived over into the corner for one of the most iconic tries of all time.

“If I’d have been playing for Wales, I’d probably have kicked the ball into the stands,” admitted Phil, as he reflected on the amazing match. “The crowd went absolutely berserk. The rest of the game was like Wales playing at home.”

Now, 45 years later, there’s no mistaking one of the greatest rugby players of all time, who won 29 Wales caps and twice toured with the British & Irish Lions.

Phil, who turns 70 this year, is still closely connected with the sport, as president of the regional side Scarlets and with his media work.

Once a week, he even has a gentle rugby run-out with his pals.

“Yes, of course I miss the game,” he admitted. “As a sportsman, when you have played at a decent level, playing is the greatest enjoyment you can ever have.

“It’s just fantastic.

“What I always enjoyed is that you shake hands with your opposite number, have a couple of beers, and then mix with your family and friends.

“So I do miss it, but I have been very lucky working for the BBC which has kept me in touch with the game.”

We visited the cancer unit at Llanelli Hospital to hand over some new equipment, and those kinds of things make you feel so good.”

But if there is any hint of regret or envy at today’s rugby rich kids, Phil is having none of it.

Standing at 5ft 7in tall, and tipping the scales at 11 stone in his pomp, 21st century rugby is a different world and a different game.

Current Wales fly-half, Dan Biggar, is 6ft 1in and weighs 14.5 stone and is reported to be earning £650,000 a season.

“I couldn’t have played the modern game today the size I was,” admitted Phil.

“Rugby is so brutal these days. The big guys are built up in the gyms to play a physical game.

“I am one of these people who believes you are born in the era you that are due to play.

“Good luck to the boys who are earning good money. That’s their good luck.

“I didn’t earn any money out of the game, but that’s the way it goes.

“I remember one of the great boxers from the Valleys.

“Howard Winston, told me how not long before he fought for the world championship in the 1960s he used to get paid about £500 a fight.

“So that is a different world. It is the world I was brought up in, it is the world I enjoyed.

“I loved the game, I was lucky I saw the world and I’ve got no complaints.”

Phil Bennett won 29 international caps for Wales between 1969 and 1978.”

One of Phil’s other passions is his charity work and honouring his great friend, Ray Gravell, a tough-tackling centre, who won 23 Wales caps.

In 2000, Ray was diagnosed with diabetes, and those remaining years before his death in October 2007 were ravaged by illness.

Ray, Phil and another Scarlets, Wales and British Lions legend, Derek Quinnell set up the ‘Three Lions Charitable Trust’ to support causes, charities and individuals across West Wales.

Following the death of one of Wales’ most loved and colourful personalities, The Ray Gravell & Friends Charitable Trust was established, with Phil one of the trustees and a driving force.

Over the past decade, the Trust has raised £1 million for those good causes, through fundraising events, donations, and 70 patrons giving £1,000 every year.

“We have really worked hard and it has been magnificent,” added Phil.

“Sometimes, when we are working late at meetings and you are tired, you wonder what the heck you are doing.

“But then, when we give a cheque to a hospital, and you see some of the little kiddies and the patients, you realise how it is well worth it.

“So many people have told us how we have changed their lives, or someone you know.

“We visited the cancer unit at Llanelli Hospital to hand over some new equipment, and those kinds of things make you feel so good.

“So I am sure ‘Grav’ up there would be looking down at us with a large whisky and having a laugh saying: ‘Look at them working hard on my behalf’.

“But it has been total satisfaction for me and I am so proud we have raised that £1 million.”

For more information about The Ray Gravell & Friends Charitable Trust, visit their website.

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