John Groves was a Welsh left wing and utility back who made 159 appearances for Gloucester between 1964 and 1969, scoring 40 tries. He played in all three championship games for Gloucestershire in 1966-67. Groves returned to Pontypridd RFC in 1969 and went on to become a leading referee.
John Groves was born in Bridgend in 1939. After playing for Pontypridd, he moved to Gloucester and joined the club early in the 1964-65 season. After scoring the only try for Gloucester United in a heavy defeat at Pontypool, he made his debut for Gloucester against Bath at Kingsholm on 12 December 1964, scoring two tries in a 13-3 victory. He became first choice in the left wing position for the next two months and was already demonstrating his ability by transferring to scrum half when Mickey Booth was injured in an 8-6 win at Bath and starting at scrum half against Swansea the following week. A week later, on February 27, he was back on the left wing playing against Aberavon at Kingsholm when he injured his foot. The injury proved worse than he thought and after a painful attempt to come back for Gloucester United three weeks later, he was out for the rest of the season.
Although lacking form and fitness in the first half of 1965-66, he finished the season strongly and was gaining a reputation not only as a try scorer but as a clever tactical kicker with a sound pair of hands who tackled above his weight and could slot into any position in the backs in an emergency.
In 1966-67 Groves was appointed vice captain under Gary White and over the next three years played more games (133) than any other Gloucester player. In an emergency he would play scrum half, outside half or full back, although he conceded that he was rather too small to start in the centre. He made his County Championship debut for Gloucestershire against Cornwall in October 1966 and even in that match moved to scrum half when Bill Redwood was injured. He went on to play in all three championship games that year. When Gary White was injured late in December, Groves took over the captaincy of an injury-ridden Gloucester side for three months.
Among the 41 games that he played for Gloucester in 1967-68 was the match to celebrate the installation of floodlights at Kingsholm. He scored a try in a 34-8 Gloucester victory over the Bosuns, an invitation side containing a number of internationals, and became one of the first players to score under lights at Kingsholm.
He played 48 games in the successful 1968-69 season when, under Dick Smith’s captaincy, the club scored a record 32 wins. Groves scored 17 tries and in his last match against Exeter at Kingsholm, finished as he started, scoring a try.
In April 1969, it was announced that John Groves would be leaving Gloucester to take up a job in South Wales. At first he hoped to remain with the club but then decided that work commitments and travel time made it impracticable and he joined Pontypridd RFC. Unfortunately, in March the following year he broke his leg in four places while playing for Pontypridd against Lanelli. The injury ended his playing career.
After he retired as a player, Groves became a leading referee in South Wales. In a career that spanned over 15 years in the eighties and early nineties he refereed B and Under 23 internationals and regularly took charge of matches on the Barbarians Easter tour of Wales and of Welsh Cup ties. On 20 February 1982, he refereed Neath v Gloucester at The Gnoll – the first meeting of the two clubs for 14 years. Gloucester won the match 13-3.
John Groves is currently President of Tonyrefail RFC.