The Australian Rugby community is today mourning the loss of former Wallabies prop and assistant coach, John Griffiths.
John Griffiths was an extremely powerful tighthead prop forward whose scrummaging skills earned him representative honours at the ripe old age of 34.
Although Griffiths lacked mobility in the open, his strength made him near invaluable in the tight exchanges where Wallaby coach Bob Dwyer claimed he was “technically without peer”. Griffiths’ philosophy on the scrum was cerebrally strategic: “It is winning the scrum itself that is of great importance and winning the ball is only part of the battle. The real meaning of winning the scrum is not only getting the ball but pushing over the gain line and the offside line and defeating the opposition physically and psychologically.”
Born in Sydney, Griffiths attended both Westmead Boys and Granville Boys High Schools before he joined Parramatta in 1966. Griffiths worked his way through the grades and firmly established himself in the top grade when he played all 19 matches of the 1971 season.
In 1973 Griffiths upped and left Sydney for Western Australia. He joined the Associates Club in Perth and over the next seven seasons notched up more than 100 first grade appearances. The more relaxed competitive environment did little for the big man’s weight - which ballooned to 135kgs - however upon a return to Sydney in 1980 - and after much coercion from coach Peter Fenton - he stripped almost 25kgs from his frame.
At the end of the following season Griffiths had his first taste of representative football when chosen for The Rest vs. Australia in the final trials for the Seventh Wallaby tour to the British Isles. However, the selectors ultimately named Declan Curran, Stan Pilecki, John Meadows and Tony D’Arcy as their four props.
In 1982 Curran’s decision to take a break from representative rugby and an injury to Sandy Muston saw Griffiths make his New South Wales debut, against Queensland, in Townsville. Although he suffered a torn rib cartilage from that match the press of the day were clearly impressed when they wrote: "a great display of scrummaging by Griffiths against a tough Maroon pack".
Griffiths big break came when Pilecki and D’Arcy were among ten Wallabies who declined to tour New Zealand, citing business and professional reasons following the long tour to Britain. In his book ‘The Winning Way’ Australian coach Bob Dwyer claimed that the search for a tighthead prop “became almost farcical” because there was “no obvious candidate for the position”. Nonetheless Griffiths’ selection was welcomed in certain quarters where it was felt that his experience and scrummaging ability were needed in a team denuded of most of its experienced forwards.
Unfortunately, injury conspired to limit Griffiths’ time on the field. He injured his hamstring at training ahead of the tour opener against Taranaki and then aggravated the problem when he faced All Black great Gary Knight in his debut against Taranaki. A torn calf muscle added to Griffiths injury toll before his tour, and his career, were bought to a close when he ruptured an Achilles tendon against Waikato.
Thankfully, Griffiths’ rugby intellectual property was not entirely lost to the game. He coached the New South Wales U21 side during the 1990s and in 1997 was the assistant coach to the Wallabies.
John Griffiths played three uncapped matches for Australia in a one-year international career.