Bobby Jones: Recalling Wales and Northampton opener with Japan links
When Dan Biggar takes on Japan for the British and Irish Lions at Murrayfield, he will carry on a tradition of half-flies from Wales and Northampton that stretches back a century.
For Biggar in 2021, read Bobby Jones in the 1920s, Northampton’s first Welsh international, an open half as his modern successor.
Small in stature, Jones would have been very quick from the start, spotting gaps in defenses and rushing to Wales and the East Midlands in the 1920s.
You couldn’t get a more Welsh last name than Jones, but his background is far more cosmopolitan than the name suggests.
Two countries, England and Wales have vied for his services – and for a third, Japan, Jones is an important figure in their rugby history but almost entirely forgotten.
His father was a diplomat, a Welshman who worked at the British Embassy and who met his wife when he was based in Tokyo.
After their marriage, Jones Sr. was transferred to the British Embassy in Shanghai, where Bobby was born in 1900 and will spend much of his childhood.
He attended Thomas Hanbury School in Shanghai from the age of nine, but in 1916 he left home and was boarded at Bedford School.
Jones spent three successful years at school, earning his colors for rugby and swimming and passing the University of London enrollment exams to attend the City and Guilds Engineering Institute in London.
Rugby was playing an increasingly important role in Jones’ life. During his engineering studies he joined Richmond, playing regularly for them at the opening with his older brother Harry on the wing. A job with Northampton Borough took him back to the Midlands and Franklin’s Gardens, where he made his debut for Northampton Saints in 1922.
Jones was an immediate hit at Saints. In his first season, he scored the best score with 13 tries, showing “exceptional skill”.
By 1924 there were growing rumors in the newspapers that Northampton Jones should be considered for England, becoming national notoriety after the East Midlands met New Zealand in December 1924 at County Ground in Northampton.
Despite a 31-7 loss, “Japanese” Jones as the newspapers sometimes called him, excelled. He scored a wide try to give the East Midlands an early lead before losing a 30-yard goal in the second half.
A year later, international honors came to Jones, but not before a showdown for his service, although Japan was not an option for him.
England called first, with Jones being selected for the Possibles against the Probables in Bath in December 1925.
Jones had a great game, changing sides halfway through, which made his omission of the last try at Twickenham a week later even more disconcerting. Indignation in Northampton ensued.
Wales wasted no time in seizing their opportunity and Jones immediately chose to play for the Probables in their test match in Cardiff and then for Wales against England in January 1926.
There were howls of protest from both sides of the Severn Bridge. It was not the first time that the question of eligibility had been raised and debated in the newspapers.
Jones himself didn’t have much to say, telling the Western Mail: “My father is Welsh, my English qualification is due to the fact that I learned the game in England and played for games. English teams.
Whether such a qualification should be rescinded or changed is a question for unions. ”
There was no mention that China was his country of birth or that his mother was Japanese.
Jones made his international debut for Cardiff in a controversial 3-3 draw. Three weeks later, Wales lost to Scotland at Inverleith.
He entered this game after scoring five tries for Northampton against Batley and although he told reporters he thought he had a good game against Scotland he was ruled out for the next game against Ireland .
Another selection was to follow for Jones – against France in Paris in April.
He almost missed the game because of the high temperature. Maybe he wished he had – Wales won a rather boring 7-5 game with Jones impressing some reviews.
He may no longer have graced the international scene, but his career with the Saints continued with great success. After serving as vice-captain in the 1925-1926 season, Jones obtained the post of captain the following year.
He continued to play for five more seasons, making 231 appearances for the Saints, scoring 74 tries and losing 12 goals. And he also continued to play for the East Midlands.
After rugby, Jones continued to work as an engineer his entire life, including for Parnall Aircraft and Avery Scales.
He married Lilian Atterbury in 1921 and had two children – Robert and Myrtle. His granddaughter Gina remembers him as a wealthy and charming man.
Bobby Jones died in 1970 and should not be forgotten for his accomplishments in the East Midlands, Wales and possibly Japan as well.
He might not think of himself as a pioneer, but that’s how that little smiling half-fly is to be remembered.