Harry Bowcott

Oldest surviving Welsh rugby international
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The Independent Online

Harry Bowcott was at 97 the oldest surviving Welsh rugby international and British and Irish Lions Test player.

Henry Morgan Bowcott: rugby player and civil servant: born Cardiff 30 April 1907; married (one son, one daughter); died Wenvoe, Vale of Glamorgan 14 December 2004.

Harry Bowcott was at 97 the oldest surviving Welsh rugby international and British and Irish Lions Test player.

When he went on the Lions tour to New Zealand and Australia in 1930 it took the 29 tourists five weeks to reach their destination by passenger boat, heading to Auckland via the Panama Canal. Each night on board ship, both going and coming back, the players had to dress de rigueur for dinner. Perhaps Sir Clive Woodward's Lions party of 2005, who head to New Zealand in May, should thank their lucky stars that they will be flying first-class and reaching their destination in less than a day.

The rugby world into which Bowcott was born, and rose to play for Cambridge University, Cardiff, London Welsh, Wales and the Lions, was determinedly amateur, light years away from the current professional era. When asked recently about the modern-day game, Bowcott admitted: "I would have given up rather than play as a professional. I would never have taken the money."

He emerged as one of the outstanding schoolboys of the 1920s, playing for the Welsh Secondary Schools for two years while attending Cardiff High School. The Welsh rugby writer W.J.T. (Dromio) Collins wrote at the time:

When I first saw Bowcott as a schoolboy, he was a youthful prodigy: his play had classic perfection of technique. The "correctness" of it was something to wonder at. In fact, it seemed unnatural in a boy. The boy Bowcott played "copybook football" and seemed predestined for a place in the Welsh team.

After school Bowcott went up to St Catharine's College, Cambridge, and used victories in the 1927 and 1928 Varsity matches as a springboard to international rugby. Cambridge won both contests with Bowcott playing at centre in the first win and outside half in the second.

Despite his versatility - he could play at outside half, centre or full back - Bowcott developed into one of the finest outside halves in the inter-war years. He had immaculate hands, silky skills, thrust and pace and, according to the former Wales full back Vivian Jenkins, he was the master of the torpedo punt.

He made his début for Wales in the victory over Scotland at Swansea in 1929, joining his former Cambridge colleague Guy Morgan in the centre, and went on to captain his country the following year against England at Cardiff Arms Park. He won eight caps in all between 1929 and 1933 and was one of the main catalysts in Wales's first victory at Twickenham in 1932.

When he toured with the Lions in New Zealand in 1930 he was still up at Cambridge. He was joined among the three-quarters by his light blues team mate Carl Aarvold, and they notched four tries between them in the four Tests as they played together at centre. Speaking about that tour to Clem Thomas, author of The History of the British Lions (1996), Bowcott pinpointed the main differences between then and now:

The tour party was made up of 29 players and a tour manager. There was nobody else - no coach, no doctor, no physiotherapist and, thank goodness, no pressmen. That was a wonderful thing because we could do as we liked without looking over our shoulders. We were no better and no worse than the young men of today in our behaviour. We drank a bit and enjoyed female company, but we tended to carouse only after matches. Standards of behaviour were left to the individual.

Bowcott played in 16 of the Lions' 21 games in New Zealand, scoring six tries, and four of the six official games in Australia, including the Test defeat. The Lions won the first Test against the All Blacks, but then lost the remaining three.

Away from rugby, Bowcott was a civil servant in London all his working life and used his experiences from both on and off the field to good effect to become one of Welsh rugby's leading administrators. He was a member of the Welsh Rugby Union general committee for two decades, and Welsh selector from 1963 to 1974, assistant manager of the Welsh tour to Argentina in 1968 and President of the WRU in the 1974/75 season.

Rob Cole