Percy Bush was the golden boy of Welsh rugby in the 1900s with his maverick talents with the oval ball winning him many plaudits. Whilst his swift and unpredictable running skills and deft handling won him fame on the rugby field, he also had prowess with bat and ball in hand and during the early 1900s Percy also made four appearances for Glamorgan.
Percy was born into a well-known family in Cardiff, with his father James being one of the town’s leading sportsmen during the 1860s and 1870s, and was closely involved with both the Cardiff cricket club, as well as the Tredegarville rugby club who were amongst the pioneers of the oval-ball game in Wales. Percy began with rugby career – and probably his cricket career too – with junior Canton teams, including St. Vincent’s and Cardiff Romilly. In 1896, he attended University College Cardiff where he quickly established himself as captain of rugby, besides winning a place in their cricket eleven, where his swift fielding drew favourable comments.
Rugby was however his first love and whilst playing one afternoon for the University at the Arms Park, he was spotted by an official of Penygraig RFC who invited both Percy, and his brother Fred, to play for the Rhondda club. They each accepted the offer, and Percy went on to both play and lead the Penygraig club in the highly competitive and combative Glamorgan League. In 1899 he switched to Cardiff RFC – a move which also saw him play regularly for the town’s cricket club and, after some useful all-round performances, he was chosen for Glamorgan in their match against Wiltshire at Swansea in 1900, followed by the friendly with Monmouthshire at Newport.
Percy made little impact in these games, but his agile fielding won many fine comments. His mere presence also helped to swell the gate receipts and it was perhaps because of these reasons that he was chosen again in 1902 for the match with Berkshire at the Arms Park, and again the following year when Surrey 2nd XI visited Cardiff. Yet again, Percy had modest success with the bat in these games, and despite shining in the field, the Glamorgan selectors did not call upon his services again.
Cricket’s loss was rugby’s gain as Percy’s career in the oval ball game took off. In 1904 he was selected for the British Lions tour to Australia and New Zealand, despite having not won a Welsh cap. Nevertheless, he was the Lions’ outside half in all four Tests and became the star of the tour, dubbed “Will O the Wisp” by the Australian press. In all, he scored 104 points, with twelve tries, eight dropped goals, four penalty kicks, and twelve conversions. His ability to elude tacklers at will, whether by side stepping off either foot, dodging or swerving was widely admired, as was his knack of stopping dead as opponents swept past. Added to this were his kicking skills, both out of hand, and from place kicks.
Percy duly made his Welsh rugby debut in 1905 in the historic victory over New Zealand at the Arms Park. Despite being a debutant in the Welsh jersey, the All Blacks were worried by Bush’s presence, and it was because of their preoccupation with his running skills at fly-half that the only try of the famous match was scored. Following Percy’s decoy run to the right, Wales then moved the ball to the left, allowing Dr. Teddy Morgan – another legendary Welsh sportsman and Glamorgan cricketer – to cross the line.
Despite this virtuoso performance, Bush only went on to win a further seven caps, explained by rugby historians by his inability to develop a successful understanding with established scrum-half Dickie Owen. Both men liked to control events behind the scrum and were therefore not compatible at half back. There was probably some truth in this, as Percy’s best match in a Welsh jersey was when he was partnered by his Cardiff team-mate, Dicky David and in what became known as “Bush’s Match”, he helped create all six tries and dropped a goal in the stunning 29-0 victory over Ireland in 1907.
Percy also captained the Cardiff club for three seasons, including 1905/06 when just one fixture was lost at the hands of New Zealand, when a foolhardy error by Percy, who fatally delayed touching the ball down in goal, cost Cardiff the game. However, he made amends the following season by captaining the club to victory over the South Africans by 17-0.
After graduating from Cardiff University, Percy had been teaching at Wood Street School, but in 1910 he tendered his resignation and took up a business post in Nantes. He continued to play when in France, captaining the Stade Nantais club and famously scoring all 54 points in one match against Le Havre. After the Great War, he was appointed vice consul in Nantes, and awarded the Palm d’Honeur. He retired in 1937 and returned home to Cardiff where he was celebrated as one of the most brilliant if mercurial sportsmen from the Welsh capital.
BUSH, Percy Frank.
Born – Cardiff, 23 June 1879.
Died – Cardiff, 19 May 1955.
Batting and Fielding Record
Minor County Championship – 5 v Wiltshire at St. Helen’s, Swansea, 1900 and v Surrey 2nd XI at The Oval, 1903.
Minor County Friendly – 1/16 v Monmouthshire at Rodney Parade, Newport, 1900.