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Feature: Barbarians legend Phil Bennett on 1973, those sidesteps, that try

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IF he’d been playing for Wales, he’d have stuck the ball into the Cardiff Arms Park stands. Instead he unleashed a flurry of sidesteps that launched rugby's most famous try. In the build-up to the latest instalment of the Barbarians v New Zealand rivalry – the Killik Cup match at Twickenham on November 4 – Phil Bennett shared his memories of that 23-11 victory in 1973. 

Phil Bennett played for the Barbarians 20 times in 10 years between 1970 and 1980 - a period in which he won 29 Wales caps as well as touring twice with the British & Irish Lions and captaining them in New Zealand in 1977.

The mere numbers don’t do justice to a quicksilver fly half who fans of any sport will remember for his role in an iconic moment in rugby history.

Bennett has talked about that game and that try more times than he might care to remember in the intervening 44 years but still has a pin-sharp recall and an acute sense of why sports lovers wore out their tapes of rugby’s greatest single moment.

Phil Bennett

Bennett fields Bryan Williams’s kick and eludes four onrushing defenders before JPR Williams, John Pullin, John Dawes, Tom David and Derek Quinnell continue the famous attack that ends with Gareth Edwards’s burst of pace and dive into the corner. 

He might have been tempted to boot the ball into touch but memories of Llanelli’s historic win over New Zealand two months earlier persuaded him otherwise.

"If I’d been playing for Wales it’d have been into touch somewhere near the halfway line,” said Bennett. "But as you’re running back you’re thinking what options are there? 

"Two months before I’d played for my beloved Scarlets and we’d beaten the All Blacks 9-3 and there was a wing forward, Alastair Scown. He’d chased me down all afternoon in Stradey Park, he’d dived at me and I just stepped to one side and he’d go past. I thought 'if you slow down you might have a chance of catching me'. 

"So as soon as I got the ball I looked and who’s coming at a hundred miles an hour? Alistair Scown. He’s never learned his lesson, so I sidestepped and he flew past me. What I didn’t realise was that there were two or three All Blacks coming behind him Kirkpatrick, somebody else, and I beat those two or three guys and passed the ball out to my great friend JPR Williams.”

The great full back - another British Lion with 55 Wales caps - is tackled so high by Bryan Williams that modern referees might have halted the move for a high tackle. But he stands firm to give England hooker John Pullin the chance to run out of defence with John Dawes dummying and reaching the halfway line.

Flanker Tom David is falling forward as he passes to Quinnell, who picks the ball off his toes and throws the one-handed pass that Edwards grabs running at full tilt before diving dramatically into the left-hand corner to score.

"The crowd went absolutely berserk,” said Bennett. "The rest of the game was like Wales playing at home."

Of course there’s a healthy debate to be had about the greatest games and the greatest tries, particularly if France are involved. 

Serge Blanco’s score to finish off the 1987 World Cup semi final against Australia is one candidate, Jean-Luc Sadourny’s Try From The End of the World at Eden Park in 1994 is another, Philippe Saint-Andre’s at Twickenham in 1991 a third.

But it is the combination of a great team - effectively the 1971 Lions wearing the Barbarians colours - and many factors of the time that puts that Barbarians classic on top of the pile. A passionate crowd in Cardiff, a large audience in the days of three channel terrestrial TV, not long in colour, and Cliff Morgan’s poetic, breathless commentary...

Bennett - who played cricket with Gary Sobers and soccer with George Best - isn’t bothered about the comparison between eras.

“I don’t say that the modern players aren’t as great,” he said. 

"Different eras, different diet, different training methods... the only thing I can say is that everywhere I go the first thing they tell me is “The greatest game I ever saw, the greatest try I ever saw, was ’73, the Baabaas against the All Blacks.”

Tickets to the Barbarians v New Zealand Killik Cup match at Twickenham are available from www.ticketmaster.co.uk