19O5—O6. P32, W29, Li, D2. Points 513—86.
CARDIFFS GREATEST SEASON PERCY BUSH’S CAPTAINCY
In this season Cardiff achieved club invincibility losing only one match, that to the New Zealand touring team, “The All Blacks “, a match which might easily have been won but r the unfortunate lapse of our captain Percy Bush. These All Blacks were only once defeated in a tour of 35 matches during which they scored no less than 970 points to 59. was Wales who beat them by the one solitary try to nil in that now legendary match December 1905, and Cardiff’s Gwyn Nicholls was the Welsh captain, and our own Percy Bush gained his first Welsh cap. After playing as a youngster for the Penygraig, Rhondda team Percy joined Cardiff and made his first team debut against Newport in November 1899, and played his last match for Cardiff against Bristol in October 1913 after a sojourn of several seasons in Nantes, France.
As Cliff Morgan did on tour with the British Lions to South Africa in 1955, so did Percy Bush reach peak form on the British tour to Australia/New Zealand in 1904, the tour on which he shared company with a Cardiff colleague, Rhys T. Gabe. Percy Bush gained eight Welsh international caps, and, no doubt would have gained more but for the long reign of the Swansea pair of halfbacks Dicky Owen and Dick Jones. Bush was another of the Cardiff players who took part in the Triple Crown success of 1908.
Towards the end of the 1909-10 season Percy Bush went to live in Nantes, France where he became the Vice-Consul, and on his arrival there he was asked to accept the captaincy of the Nantes Club and did so. During his stay with the Nantes Club he did much to elevate the standard of Rugby football there and raise the status of that Club. In a match against Le Havre in 1910, Bush himself scored no less than 54 points, made up of ten tries, eight converted goals and two dropped goals. What a performance!
After his return to Wales he was honoured by the French Government with the award of a silver medal (Medaille d’Argent de Gratitude) in recognition of his efforts for reviving trade and interchange between the ports of Nantes and Cardiff.
Of Bush’s prowess on the Rugby field, there can be no doubt that he was one of the most brilliant outside half-backs of his time, equipped with a devastating side-step and great dodging powers. He had the ability to stop dead on the run, and then speed past non-plussed opponents, he was an expert with the dummy pass and of drop goals; gifted with unbounded confidence, his team had confidence in him, he was a most popular captain. Off the field he was indeed a ‘cheeky chappie’, a leg-pulling teaser supreme, and his committee were often the subject of his cajolery in the interests of his team’s after- match festivities.
Many years ago the story was passed on to me to the effect that, whilst Percy Bush was a master at Wood Street, Cardiff School (demolished in 1972 to make room for City Transport Offices) he was wont to train during the lunch hours on the Cardiff Arms Park very close at hand, with the assistance of a number of his pupils whose athletic tasks were to stop his dodging and retrieve the Rugby balls from his kicking session. As these practices continued, the committee had to keep a strict check on the number of Rugby balls returned to the grounds man, because no doubt, the pupils were awarded from time to time with a ‘souvenir’ of the practice. Outside the ground on match days when Bush was in his prime, supporters were often heard to say, as this great player was discussed, “If Percy Bush isn’t playing today, I’m going home”. Such was an illustration, a demonstration perhaps of his drawing power, of one of the ‘greats ‘ who contributed to the fame and fortunes of Cardiff.
What then of this great 1905-6 season? At the beginning there was not a lot to suggest a season of invincibility, but, on examination of the results, readers will see that there were some remarkable achievements, In their importance were the defeats of our two greatest rivals of the Rugby world, Newport and Swansea, each four times, a very rare feat indeed, and accomplished only once before—against Swansea in 1885—6, Hancock’s ‘year’ and Newport in 1897—8, Selwyn Biggs’ ‘year’. Every Welsh club on the fixture list was defeated and the two drawn matches were with English clubs Gloucester and Leicester. The match with Gloucester in October had not much to commend itself and the ‘ Cestrians ‘ were content merely to make it a spoiling game to nullify our better backs.
But the match at Leicester in March had an air of drama, and Cardiff were severely tested, and handicapped by the absence of four leading players who were to play for Wales against Ireland on the following Saturday, these were Cecil Biggs, R. A. Gibbs, Dai Westacott and Gwyn Nicholls. Late in the second half with Leicester leading a try to nil, Winfleld our full-back dropped what was thought to be an excellent goal and our players were walking back to half way for the drop-out, but the Leicester touch judge had his flag up, and consequently, the referee disallowed the goal. It was now a desperate situation but in the closing minutes Winfield took a penalty kick at goal which failed, the ball going wide and over the line near touch in goal where there were several Leicester defenders. However, Leonard Thomas a forward on loan from Penarth, sped after the ball like a furious Gladiator” and managed to touch it down for a try under the very noses of the defenders. And so the club invincibility was maintained.
The Paris trip was a reciprocal one and followed the visit of last season by the Stade Francaise Club. At least five French clubs were represented in the Paris selection. The visit stimulated French Rugby, and it was a very pleasant trip for our boys. It was from December that Cardiff’s successes accelerated and became spectacular. In that month, apart from the All Blacks’ match, Blackheath, London Welsh, Barbarians, and Old Merchant Taylors were defeated successively and decisively with a total of 81 points to 9. There were a couple of close games in March, but from January until the end of the season Cardiff played Rugby of the highest class, and in the final month of April they finished off their last four matches with a flourishing total of 102 points to 3—a solitary try by Devon- port Albion. In the Barbarian match, J. L. Williams, one of Cardiff’s wings scored five tries. Evidently there were no jitters before the final match, as our hapless opponents—Llanelly of all teams, were massacred by no less than 40 points to nil, and Cecil Biggs celebrated by scoring five tries.
Our captain, Percy Bush was shouldered off the field into the pavilion where he was overwhelmed with congratulations, and in the evening, a ‘ mini-banquet” was held in the gymnasium adjoining the pavilion to celebrate this remarkably great season. Let me refer back to the match with Blackheath in London on 9th December 1905. For this match the Welsh Rugby Union had requested Cardiff to play Willie Llewellyn of Penygraig, and Teddy Morgan of London Welsh in their three-quarter line along side Gwyn Nicholls and R. T. Gabe, as this quartette was selected for Wales against the All Blacks the following Saturday. A. F. Harding, then of London. Welsh was also included, in Cardiff’s pack, and by mutual arrangement J. L. Williams the Cardiff wing, and Joe Pugsley the forward played the same day for London Welsh against the Harlequins. Did the Welsh selectors ever make such a crafty and astute move? All the Rugby world knows of the now legendary win by Wales over the All Blacks by one solitary try to nil scored by Teddy Morgan. The Welsh team included four Cardiff players, Gwyn Nicholls (captain), Rhys Gabe, our fullback Winfield and our captain Percy Bush—his first Welsh cap.
What then of this Cardiff/New Zealand encounter? It was a battle of giants in a period of tremendous Rugby enthusiasm, stimulated by the All Blacks tour, and Cardiff were playing at their brilliant best. Described as an exhilarating game, Cardiff’s passing movements were superb, the visitors rugged and stern in defence, as yet unbeaten except by Wales in twenty-seven matches. Cardiff took the lead in the first half when John Brown direct from a line-out threw to Percy Bush, from whom the ball went to Gibbs, to Gabe and then to Gwyn Nicholls who scored a fine try in the corner for Winfield to convert with a splendid kick. New Zealand equalised before half time with a try by “Mons”
Thomas and W. J. Wallace converted. In the second half the All Blacks took the lead most fortuitously, when from an injudicious kick ahead by Seeling one of their forwards, from thirty yards out the ball crossed our line but it was well covered by Percy Bush who merely had to touch it down to minor it. Although eyeing Nicholson a New Zealand forward following up, Bush hesitated, and as the ball canted awkwardly, Nicholson made a spring and touched it down for a try, for Wallace to easily convert and the All Blacks to lead by 10—5. The crowd was shocked, and Bush was shamed but played brilliantly afterwards in an effort to save the game, and towards the end Cardiff scored another great try after a grand passing movement when the ball went from Dicky David the scrum half, to Bush, to Gibbs, to Nicholls who put Ralph Thomas our wing over in the corner. Could Winfield convert and so save the game? Alas his kick, an excellent one, just missed, and New Zealand had won by 10 points to 8. Their captain Dave Gallagher said Cardiff was the best club side the tourists had met, but that was no consolation to Percy Bush whose lapse was to haunt him for the rest of his days. I suppose that if the unfortunate incident had happened in these modern days, our critics would have opined that Percy Bush was trying to take the ‘ mickey’ out of the All Blacks.
In this most successful season, R. A. Gibbs, Ralph Thomas, Lew George, Joe Pugsley and D. L. Evans were awarded First Team caps; seven players were awarded Welsh caps Winfield, Nicholls, Gabe, Gibbs, Bush, Dai Westacott and John Powell. D. L. Evans was again the captain of the Second Team and their record was: played 24, won 18, lost 5 and drawn one with 271 points to 67. New caps for the Reserves were Edgar Thomas, Randall Davies, Frank Woods, W. Holtham, J. Williams, T. Samuel and J. Jones. Their top try scorers were George McGraith with 11 tries (he was the vice captain), W. A. Jones and E. W. Jones each got 10 and nine came for W. H. Pullen.
Naturally with the gate money of £1,862 from the New Zealand match our receipts far exceeded any previous year. the total income being £5,629.9.5d. The chief items of expenditure were share of gates £1,203.O.3d.; expenses at out matches £492.18.8d.; Paris Trip £191 .18.ld.; £700 went on repairs to ground, stands and new fencing; £55.10.Od. was given to charities; £25 to the Cardiff Schools Rugby Football Union; and £71 .19.Od. to local clubs. The balance carried forward being £912.19.9d.
Our most successful season. was duly celebrated with a complimentary smoking concert held at the Park Hotel Cardiff on the evening of 29th September 1906. Subsequently, presentations were made to twenty-one players, the Welsh Rugby Union had sanctioned a club value of £2.2.Od. per player which was supplemented by public subscription. The presentations took the form of 18 ct. gold watches suitably inscribed, which were supplied by Messrs. T. W. Long of 2 St. Mary Street, Cardiff. One of the recipients was a soldier in World War I, he was Dai Westacott, killed in action. He had told his wife that should anything happen to him, his gold watch must pass on to his son Dai, and this was duly carried out. Dai Westacott Jnr. was also a forward like his dad, and played for the club during 1929/30—1931/32, he had one son Peter to whom he presented the watch on the latter’s twenty-first birthday. On the 22nd August 1972 Peter Westacott presented the gold watch to the Cardiff Rugby Club Museum, sixty-six years after its presentation to his grandfather.
Footnote to 1905—6. The Drapers’ ‘ International ‘ match, the annual encounter between ‘Hayes’ (David Morgan & Co.) and the ‘Whartons’ (James Howell & Co.) the rival town drapers, took place at Cardiff Arms Park on 22nd November 1905. Victory went to the ‘Whartons’ by three tries to nil.
These annual encounters, of much local interest, usually took place on Wednesdays, the early closing day of the town’s shopkeepers. There were many public houses nearby in this old part of Cardiff, wherein the match participants could celebrate the after-match proceedings. One such ‘hostelry’ was The Blue Anchor in Wharton Street, which in my younger days was the headquarters of Cardiff Romillys, a Cardiff & District Union club, popularly known as the Laughing Philosophers. (The Blue Anchor was demolished about 1930 to make way for an extension of a man’s shop of James Howell & Co. Ltd.) I have no doubt that on Thursday mornings after the Drapers’ Rugby Saga of the previous day, many of the players were thankful that they were only shop-walkers and not runners.