Archive for Barry John

R.I.P. Phil Bennett (1948-2022)

Posted in Biographical, Rugby with tags , , , on June 13, 2022 by telescoper

With the passing of Phil Bennett at the age of 73, one of the true greats of Rugby Union has left us. Known to many as “Benny”, Phil Bennett was one of the best players ever to play at fly half for any team at any time. While the role of outside half in the modern game involves a much greater emphasis on kicking ability, Bennett just loved to run with the ball and had an amazing box of tricks with which to bamboozle the opposition, including but not limited to his famous sidestep.

Watch him here in the classic Barbarians versus New Zealand match in Cardiff 1973. The coach of a mere mortal would tear his hair out seeing a player what Bennett did under the shadow of his own posts, but he didn’t just get away with it – he started the move that created a part of Rugby history.

Phil Bennett took over as outside half for Wales from Barry John, who retired early from Rugby, and soon established himself as a permanent member of the phenomenal Welsh team of the early 1970s, joining the ranks of such legends as JPR Williams, Gerald Davies, and Gareth Edwards.

I was born in England but had family connections to Scotland, Wales and Ireland too. Partly because the English team of that period was not strong we always cheered for Wales when we watched the Five Nations games at home. Years later I managed to meet a few of the players of that time. I was flabbergasted to bump into JPR Williams once just outside my house; met Gerald Davies at an event in Cardiff Bay; and encountered Phil Bennett in a bookshop in Cardiff city centre. On all occasions I was completely tongue-tied, struck by the awe of being in the company of such people. All of them were modest and gracious. Remember that Rugby Union in those days was an amateur sport and none of these extraordinary men became rich like modern players do.

Anyway, here is another sensational try featuring Phil Bennett who both starts and finishes the move – with a fantastic contribution from Gerald Davies in between. In the words of the great Bill McLaren “That was absolute magic, and the whole crowd here knows it”.

Rest in Peace, Phil Bennett (1948-2022)

On Barry John

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Rugby with tags , , on January 30, 2019 by telescoper

I was browsing a few rugby sites yesterday evening, ahead of this year’s Six Nations competition (which starts on Saturday) when I stumbled across this little clip featuring legendary Welsh standoff Barry John.

The opening part of this clip really caught my attention because it was filmed near the bus stop just outside The Halfway, a pub on Cathedral Road just a few yards from my house in Cardiff; in the background you can see Llandaff Fields.

I’ve often wondered what became of Barry John. He’s 74 now and no longer the slim young prodigy who was quite simply the best rugby player I ever saw. Since he played in a great Welsh side that included Gareth Edwards, J.P.R. Williams, Gerald Davies et al, that really says something. As a sort of rugby equivalent of George Best, he was incredibly famous during his career. Budding rugby players – even those not born in Wales – all wanted to play like Barry John. But suddenly, at the age of just 27, after playing just 25 internationals, he turned his back on all the publicity and adulation and retired from rugby. He found the pressure of being such a star in the amateur era too difficult to cope with.

Anyway, was Barry John really that good? Absolutely yes, he was. Slight of build but with superb balance, he had an extraordinary, almost magical, ability to find his way through a crowd of potential tacklers as if they weren’t there at all. In the memorable words of that great commentator Bill McLaren “he flits like a little phantom”. But you don’t need to take my word for it. Just look at him – and some other giants of the time – in these highlights of the classic Scotland-Wales tie in the Five Nations of 1971. Watch about 30 seconds in, where he wrong-foots half the Scottish three-quarter line before ghosting through three more before releasing the ball to his forwards. Will there ever be another Barry John? I doubt it..

I doubt if Barry John will ever get to read this, but I’m sure there are many of us who remember the excitement of watching him play and feel enriched by what he gave us.