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Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
Kingmaker: Vernon Pugh
IRB chairman Vernon Pugh
Pugh has become world rugby's most influential figure


In just 12 years Vernon Pugh has gone from a virtual nobody to the most influential figure in world rugby.

A little over a decade ago, Pugh was coaching Cardiff High School Old Boys on a muddy field in the Welsh capital.

Since then he has brought Italy into the Six Nations championship and set up the Heineken Cup and European Shield as the chairman of the International Rugby Board.

And effectively he has been the key figure in bringing rugby kicking and screaming into the professional era.

So meteoric is his rise, some suggest he has become too powerful, all the more impressive considering his relatively unspectacular rugby background.


The only problem I ever had with Vernon was his reluctance to play his weekly sub of 1
A former rugby team-mate of Pugh's

Even his former team-mates marvel at his rapid ascent.

Pugh was a "brave player who never skipped out of a tackle" but was also no more than a "good quality second-class centre", according to one.

He played at centre alongside brother John and Vernon, the senior of the two, is regularly described as quiet and unassuming.

There is just one criticism from his playing days.

An ex-club secretary at Cardiff HSOB said: "The only problem I ever had with Vernon was his reluctance to play his weekly sub of 1."

Having recently qualified as a barrister when he joined the club, his appearances for the team were often limited by work.

But the idea of rugby pulsing through his veins from his childhood was not the only Welsh stereotype in the Pugh early years.

Martin Johnson lifts the Heineken Cup earlier this year
Pugh was central to the inception of the Heineken Cup

The future IRB chairman seemed destined for a career in mining. Brought up in the Amman Valley, his father was a miner.

But he instead opted for a career in the legal profession, going to Aberyswyth University and later Downing College, Cambridge University, before qualifying as a barrister.

It remains, however, a wonder that he now carries so much influence over one of the most popular sports in the world.

Back in the late Eighties he was still coaching for his former club but in 1989 he came into contact with the WRU for the first time in his role as a barrister.

A spokesman for the WRU explained: "There was an investigation after some shenanigans involving some Welsh players in South Africa and Vernon was brought in in his role as a QC."

Such was his impact that five years on he was nominated and elected as chairman of the WRU.

And, after a three-year period in charge, he was poached by the IRB to take up his post as the board's first ever independent chairman.

Recently described as "aloof, arrogant and condescending" in the New Zealand press, he has, predictably in his sport, picked up both high-profile friends and enemies.

One journalist said of him: "He's a very quiet fellow, a very dignified man. I don't think if you had him at your place for a dinner party he'd be the one singing and telling noisy jokes."

  Pugh's pros and cons
Pros: Heineken Cup and European Shield
Extension of IRB World Sevens
Italy into Six Nations Championship
Cons: Inter-hemisphere contest
Rejection of New Zealand for 2003 World Cup

From its origins, the IRB has been a secretive bunch - the sport being very amateur with long traditions.

But, under Pugh, the sport has become more professional from grass roots level upwards.

Some of his measures have proved unpopular - the proposed northern-southern hemisphere clash or removing New Zealand's position as co-hosts of next year's World Cup.

Other proposals have been well received - the Heineken Cup and increased backing of the IRB World Rugby Sevens circuit.

And he looks destined to hold on to his role, health permitting.

In September he had a cancerous tumour removed from one of his kidneys and he is currently recovering at home.


See also:

09 Oct 02 | Arsenal
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