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Pioneers of Rugby in Wellington 056: Alf and Jack Griffiths

An influential and popular Poneke and Wellington father and son pair who were prominent over the first four decades of the 20th century, with father Alf becoming an All Black selector and son Jack an All Black captain.

Father Alf Griffiths was born in Whanganui in 1880 and moved to Wellington whilst young where he attended the Terrace School.

He played six games for Wellington in the 1904 season and appeared for Wellington B in 1905, and he captained Poneke. He didn’t play in the first Ranfurly Shield match against Auckland in 1904, but he was listed in the team as a halfback in the first two defences in subsequent weeks against Canterbury and Otago.

In 1919 he was coach of the Poneke side that swept to the Senior Championship title in stunning fashion, storming through the pack with a draw and then a run of five straight victories to finish a point ahead of second placed Athletic who they beat 14-3 in the defining fixture of the season.

Alf was on the NZRFU management committee from 1920-22 and was a New Zealand selector 1920-23.

Son Jack Griffiths had a distinguished career in rugby, in wartime and later in his professional life as a bank manager and as a rugby administrator as well.

Jack entered the world in April 1912, and being the protégé of his father and mother Alice Tilyard, sister of the Poneke rugby playing brothers quickly distinguished himself as a sportsman on the playgrounds of Khandallah School and then Wellington College.

He was in the Wellington College First XV in 1928, that team drawing with winners Nelson College 13-13 and losing to Whanganui Collegiate 6-26 at the Quadrangular Tournament.

Leaving school, he joined the Poneke club through the tunnel and rose to prominence as an up and coming first five-eighth or midfielder.

He made both the Wellington Colts and Wellington B in 1931, as well as making the first two of 32 career appearances for the full Wellington representative side that year.

In 1932 and 1933 he was a mainstay of Wellington teams, returning in 1934 to make the North Island team for the first time and to play in New Zealand trial matches. This resulted in him first being selected for the All Blacks in 1934 and he played five matches on the tour of Australia that year. He was at second-five in the test that was drawn 3-3 at Sydney.

He was selected for the All Blacks for their 1935/36 tour to the British Isles, playing in 16 matches variously at first and second five eighths and centre and played in three of the four tests.

Father Alf died in Wellington in 1936, aged 55, only months before son Jack was awarded the All Blacks captaincy for their 1936 series against the Wallabies in their two home tests. The first was at first-five in a 11-6 win on his home ground Athletic Park and the second was at second-five in a 38-13 win at Dunedin. He also captained the All Blacks in a third match, a warm-up fixture with South Canterbury in Timaru, winning 16-13.

He was also captain of Wellington in 1937, leading the team to a humbling 0-29 defeat to the touring Springboks that year, perhaps contributing to his non-selection for the All Blacks for that series that started the following week.

He was back in black in 1938 on that year’s Australian tour, playing second-five in a 14-6 third test win in Sydney. This wrapped Jack’s All Blacks career, finishing it with a record of 30 games including seven test caps.

Jack was also a handy cricketer and he represented Whanganui in the Hawke Cup in 1938/39.

When war broke out he was living in Tokomaru Bay on the East Coast working for the BNZ bank and a selector for that union in 1939. He joined the army as a lieutenant in the 2nd NZEF and was posted to Egypt where he played for that team in 1940. He became the Aide-de-camp to General Freyberg 1941-45, himself a Wellington College Old Boy and former Wellington College Old Boys player. He was awarded the Military Cross.

Jack Griffiths and General Freyberg watching the German paratroopers land on Crete.

In June 1942 during the battle of Minqar Qaim in June 1942, Freyberg was severely wounded on the right side of the neck by a shell splinter. A.D.C. Griffiths then put on a field dressing whilst other shells burst around them, half burying them in the sand. Griffiths succeeded in getting the General back into his car and back to headquarters.

Speaking of the incident afterwards, Freyberg said: “I would suggest to any General looking around for an aide to pick a good football five-eighth. Mine was nippy enough to hear the shell coming that wounded me and ducked.”

Griffiths went on win the “Greek Medal for Outstanding Services: For assisting 3 Greek Mountain Brigade in training and during the battles of Rimini, Bellaria and Rubicone in Italy 1944.

Returning from the theatre of war, Jack Griffiths remained involved in rugby and became a selector in the Whanganui and Manawatu unions and was on the NZRFU council 1961-65 and on the National Executive between 1966-72.

Jack was Poneke’s President in 1983, the year of the club’s 100th anniversary celebrations.

Jack retired to the Kapiti Coast and died in Paraparaumu in 2001, aged 89.


  • Akers, Clive. New Zealand Rugby Register 1870-2015. New Zealand Rugby Museum, 2016.
  • All Blacks A-Z Profile Jack Griffiths, by Lindsay Knight.
  • Chester, R.H. and McMillan, N.A.C. Centenary. 100 Years of All Black Rugby. Moa Publications. Auckland 1984.
  • Evening Post and Dominion various reports 1904 and 1932-35.
  • Minogue, Peter B. Champagne Rugby. The Story of Secondary School Rugby in New Zealand. A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington 1961.
  • Moloney, J.K. Ranfurly Shield History. Martin Printing Co. Auckland, 1960.
  • Poneke Football Club. A willing Band of Youths. The History of the Poneke Football Club. Wellington, 1984.
  • Singleton-Gates, Peter. General Lord Freyberg VC. Michael Joseph, London 1963.
  • Swan, Arthur C.; Jackson, Gordon F. W. (1952). Wellington’s Rugby History 1870 – 1950. Wellington, New Zealand: A. H. & A. W. Reed

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