(Glanville Vernon Pugh, lawyer
and rugby administrator.
Born July 5 1945; died April 24 2003)

Vernon Pugh QC was born in Glynmoch, Glanamman and educated at Amman Valley Grammar School, Ammanford (1956 to 1963), the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth (1963 to 1966), where he took a law degree, and Downing College, Cambridge, where he qualified as a barrister in 1969. He lectured in Law at Leicester University (1968-9) and was for the next four years a lecturer in town planning law at the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology, Cardiff.

He achieved his ambition to become a QC (Queen's Counsel) before he was 40. In 1970 a became a practising barrister with chambers in Cardiff and London specializing in environmental law and town planning, a role that involved him in major schemes like the redevelopment of Cardiff city centre and the regeneration of its docks and waterfront. In 1986 he was appointed queen's counsel and a crown court recorder (part-time judge). He passed up an invitation to become a High Court judge, however, because of his interest in rugby administration. If matters had rested there he would have been as obscure outside his native valley and immediate circle of friends and family as countless other lawyers manage to remain all their lives.

But a passion for rugby, and his ultimate elevation to that sport's top administrative positions, were to thrust him into a limelight normally denied humble members of the legal profession. He first became involved with the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) in his role as a barrister in 1989 and was nominated as the first chairman of the union's general committee four years later, becoming chairman of the WRU from 1993-1997. The rugby commentator, journalist and former Wales forward Eddie Butler has written of him:

"He first rose to rugby prominence as an investigator into the 1989 rebel Welsh tour to South Africa. The critical report by this Welsh-speaking QC paved the way for a 1993 vote of no confidence in the Welsh Rugby Union and for his appointment as chairman of the same body".

He was next to become the International Rugby Board's first elected and permanent chairman (all previous chairmen had been appointed on a rotating basis) and oversaw the expansion of the Rugby World Cup. Pugh was also a driving force behind the replacement of the old National Stadium in Cardiff with the Millennium Stadium and Wales' hosting of the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

He was therefore no stranger to controversy when, as chairman of the International Rugby Board (IRB), the hot potato of professionalism landed in his hands instead of the customary oval ball. Eddie Butler again:

"He did not stay long in his own back yard. And no sooner had he gone on to higher office with the IRB than he was involved in the biggest threat to the game in 100 years. The southern-hemisphere countries who ruled the playing side of rugby – Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – declared to the new chairman of the world authority that immediately after the World Cup of 1995 they would be playing professional rugby. It was a done deal. Not even Pugh could negotiate a way out of that."

With the advent of professionalism came an increase in the influence and powers of the IRB, and the chairman's recompense for his part-time duties kept pace with this growth: "The role is not a full-time one, but Pugh, who also continued to practise law, received an annual recompense of about $A300,000." [about £120,000]. (Sydney Daily Telegraph, Peter Jenkins, 30th April 2003).

The obituaries reproduced below after his untimely death on 24th April 2003, at the age of 57, tell in more detail the journey of this coal miner's son from a Glynmoch council house to the top job in rugby union. It was his lot, however, to be given jobs within the world of rugby administration at the most tumultuous time in its history since 1895, when the north of England clubs broke with the amateur Rugby Union to create the professional Rugby League. Conveniently, the battle to professionalise the game took place exactly 100 years after the aristocratic English rulers of the game had fought tooth and nail to keep it amateur. This saw the 1990s becoming a battle ground off the rugby field as boisterous as anything normally seen on it, proving that Rugby can be just as fractious and bruising an affair even when the participants are merely seated around a table. Egos are equally fragile and liable to damage, it would seem, as limbs; perhaps more so.

In seems inevitable (with hindsight, of course) that whoever presided over this transitional phase of the game would draw criticism, at least from some quarters, no matter what he did. Vernon Pugh thus found himself often being on the receiving end of remarks about him that were less than complimentary. Things became particularly personal after the IRB's decision to award the 2003 World Cup to Australia alone instead of sharing the venues between them and New Zealand. The IRB sets out quite strict conditions for nations wishing to host the four-yearly rugby world cup, the game's top tournament. This includes the rights to all advertising and corporate hospitality at stadiums where the games are played, a hugely lucrative source of income. Australia complied with the IRB's terms and were awarded the world cup but the New Zealand rugby authorities didn't and lost their chance to co-host the event, causing outrage at home. The New Zealand rugby authorities, however, chose to blame the IRB, and especially its Chairman:

"Personal attacks followed by apologies did nothing to advance New Zealand's cause, and severely damaged its reputation and standing in the international rugby community. Not only was it inappropriate behaviour, it was bad tactics ... When the story broke on March 8th it was obvious there would be a storm of criticism of NZRFU [New Zealand Rugby Football Union]. Messrs McCaw and Rutherford tried to deflect this by blaming IRB/RWCL [Rugby World Cup Ltd]." (New Zealand Herald, 24th July 2002.)

Not surprisingly the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) didn't include Vernon Pugh on its most popular list, calling him "a small-time town-planner", amongst other things and saying the IRB was operating like a "bloody-minded, arrogant and leaderless" organisation. The chairman of the NZRFU Murray McCaw weighed in on March 8th 2002 with:

"There's a bit of ... bloody-mindedness from Rugby World Cup Ltd and its chairman. The man's a lawyer and he's asking us to break legal contracts. Like all consummate politicians, they keep their positions by being divisive." (New Zealand Herald, 24th July 2002).

Mr McCaw went further when discussing Vernon Pugh's influence at the IRB:

"It consolidates the power in one person, and means he is able to control things by his influence. He has too much power. I'm not prepared to say it's an abuse of power, but it does open up the question ... You can't have someone who's a town planning QC running a global sport, let alone trying to run what is commonly referred to as the third or fourth biggest sporting event in the world". (New Zealand Herald, 24th July 2002).

But the attacks, made by McCaw and the Chief Executive of the NZRFU, David Rutherford, rebounded against them, and they were both forced to resign after the publication of an official inquiry into the affair:

"Personal attacks by the heads of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union on International Rugby Board chief Vernon Pugh were "inexcusable", says retired judge Sir Thomas Eichelbaum. His investigation into New Zealand's handling of the 2003 rugby World Cup debacle was unequivocal in condemning chief executive officer David Rutherford and chairman Murray McCaw for their outbursts. Both men quit yesterday as the report was made public to compensate for New Zealand's loss of hosting rights to world rugby's lucrative showpiece. Sir Thomas said: "With justification, Mr Pugh, RWCL [Rugby World Cup Ltd] directors and IRB councillors regarded them as offensive and hurtful." (New Zealand Herald, 24th July 2002. Or, click HERE for the full story)

The official inquiry was keen to point out that Pugh had in fact gone out of his way to help the New Zealand rugby authorities in their bid:

"Mr Pugh had helped NZRFU in three significant respects in particular. He fended off Australian Rugby Union attempts to take over the New Zealand semi final, effected the financial settlement which rescued NZRFU when faced with a loss and was instrumental in New Zealand salvaging something in its bid ..." [Independent Rugby World Cup Inquiry: Report of The Reviewer (Sir Thomas Eichelbaum), section 12.7]

McCaw and Rutherford must have been cursing their luck when they discovered that the man appointed to investigate claims of personal attacks on lawyer and former judge Vernon Pugh was none other than ... a lawyer and former judge himself, and Vernon Pugh's handling of this rather unpleasant affair certainly showed how formidable he could be. As Eddie Butler observes (see below): "the immediate retraction was even clearer evidence of how risky it was to mess with a grand-scale conveyancer".

But if the leading lights of New Zealand rugby blotted their copybooks by these attacks on Vernon Pugh, it was nothing to what New Zealand's Minister of Sport Trevor Mallard said live on New Zealand radio:

"Mr Mallard made his comment on Radio Sport the day after New Zealand lost its bid to Co-host the cup. It involved inserting "Heinekens in particularly uncomfortable places" and he offered to use the cup sponsor's product on Mr Pugh and Australian Rugby Union boss John O'Neill. In his report, released on Tuesday, Sir Thomas Eichelbaum said it was not surprising that Mr Pugh had failed to reply to a letter from Mr Mallard, given the minister's comments. Mr Mallard yesterday said he would always regret the comments ... Trevor Mallard does not believe he needs to quit over his role in the affair, although he bitterly regrets crude comments he made about inserting Heineken bottles into International Rugby Board chairman Vernon Pugh." (New Zealand Herald, 25th July 2002. Or click HERE for the full story).

And we thought our politicians were bad. Predictably enough, opposition MPs in the New Zealand Parliament went on the offensive against Trevor Mallard:

"MP Penny Webster said Mallard had made a "bully-boy" joke that was poorly timed given a Hawke's Bay court case involving a group of teenage boys who allegedly did with a broomstick "what Mallard says he'd enjoy doing with a beer bottle". Green Party co-leader Rod Donald said the minister had made ''an inappropriate remark which reinforces the image that rugby players are a bunch of boozing louts". (Dispatch Online, 20th April 2002.)

Amazingly, New Zealand's sports minister neither resigned nor was sacked for this outburst, proving that life is indeed stranger than fiction at times. No doubt these eruptions of abuse were thoroughly unpleasant, even distressing, but they were also rare and to balance such attacks, there are many more who remember Vernon Pugh more affectionately, as this journalist clearly does:

"Not many QC's would be, but Pugh could be genial and entertaining in a understated way. He was also exceptionally sharp, with a forensic eye for detail and an ability to apply his trained legal mind to areas such as rugby, which was a lifelong passion" (Obituary, South Wales Evening Post, "Vernon a Rare Breed", 26th April 2003).

(Out of curiosity, why aren't many QCs "genial and entertaining in a understated way"? Discuss, with reference to QCs you have known).

As a contrast, if the New Zealand press could describe Vernon Pugh as "aloof, arrogant and condescending", yet another journalist was able to say 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."

In a sport where "singing and telling noisy jokes" (and worse) are just about compulsory, perhaps that could be why he attracted criticism, so that, predictably enough for the sport, he picked up high-profile enemies as well as friends along the way.

We'll keep a welcome ... maybe
Naturally enough, comments originating from Wales have usually (though not always) been much kinder to him than those from other parts of the world, and many here even saw even him as a sort of hero figure, and defender of the smaller rugby nations against the predatory approaches of the bigger ones. John Scott of the South Wales Echo is such an admirer (curiously, he uses the term 'fixer' in the item below as a compliment):

"The death of Vernon Pugh has left a huge void in the International Rugby Board with the game facing a few dangerous years of uncertainty.
.....Wales may not have been much of a force on the field during Pugh's 10 years in office, but he ensured that they packed their weight in the committee room.
.....His political skill kept the Board together at a turbulent time in the game's history but now that he is gone, the likes of Australia and England will battle for supremacy and there is no fixer in Pugh's mould on the horizon.
.....It was thanks to Pugh that the English were kept at bay in the last eight years. Their attempts to make the Six Nations a second division tournament and take over the Heineken Cup came to grief because of him.
.....But England are smarting now after being denied the right to stage the 2007 World Cup and they are bound to renew their campaign to have the top countries in the world playing each other more often to maximise their cash-flow ...
....Pugh always had the measure of England, but the hawks in England are sure to be flapping their wings in the coming months and the IRB needs not just a firm hand at the tiller but someone who knows where he is heading.
.....Money rules today and if the rich are to get richer in an era when gates are becoming the key source of income with the television and sponsorship markets in recession, it will be at the expense of the poor …
.....… the challenge for the game is … saving the likes of Wales and Scotland from irrelevance".

(John Scott, South Wales Echo: "IRB must act to build on Pugh's global vision", April 28th 2003)

But not everyone sees his term of office at the IRB as an unqualified success:

"He leaves behind him a game in turmoil – more popular than ever before with broadcasters and the paying public, but more financially challenged than at any time since the lurch towards professionalism in 1995 – and one crying out for inspirational leadership ..." (Chris Hewett, The Independent, 26 April 2003)

To show that the Welsh, too, can be less than generous towards their own when required, the former international Eddie Butler has also used the opportunity of Vernon Pugh's death to comment:

"Vernon Pugh won all his arguments, but it remains to be seen whether he created two fresh rows for every motion passed in his favour." (See obituary below, where Butler is clearly puzzled by his subject)

The author of the entry for Vernon Pugh in the prestigious Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) is generally sympathetic towards his subject but even he can be capable of a slight on occasion: 'Pugh seemed to have risen without trace to domination of world rugby'. Neutrality towards some people doesn't seem to be an option, such is their capacity to arouse strong passions, and Vernon Pugh certainly fell into that category.

Playing and coaching career
Some commentators on Vernon Pugh have resorted to using his relatively modest playing and coaching career against him, seeming to imply that his lack of playing experience at the very top level somehow disqualified him from being an administrator at the very top level also. This is curious, to say the least, as you'd have thought that the abilities required of an administrator would be, well, to administer. Here is just one:

'"So meteoric is his rise, some suggest he has become too powerful, all the more impressive considering his relatively unspectacular rugby background. 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". (Matt Majendie, BBC Sport Online, Tuesday, 15th October, 2002; see below).

If it is at all relevant, here is Vernon Pugh's playing career, modest though it may be in some eyes:

Being from the Amman Valley, Vernon Pugh's first senior club was Amman United RFC. He played rugby at Cambridge University and had spells at Leicester, Pontypridd and St Peter's, before joining Cardiff High School Old Boys in the 1969-70 season, for whom set a club individual points 1st XV record when he notched 27 against Metal Box in a 71-0 win.
.....In the first round of the Welsh Cup in 1973-74 he scored a try in a shock 24-0 win against Penarth and regularly played alongside his brother John in the Old Boys centre. He played on towards the late 1970s, being skipper of the Old Boys 2nd XV in the 1977-78 season.
.....As well as coaching the Old Boys (then named Cardiff Harlequins), he also coached Cardiff Institute (now UWIC) and the Wales Universities team.

(Welsh Rugby Union obituary, 26th April 2003, from web site:

Fellow of University College of Wales, Aberystwyth:
Mr G Vernon Pugh, QC, LLB (Wales), LLM (Cantab). Former student, Barrister. Crown Court Recorder and Bencher at Lincoln's Inn. Chairman, International Rugby Board. Former Chairman Welsh Rugby Union.

Vernon Pugh travelled a route to this high profile world in a manner we have seen often in the pages of this web site. From 'humble' beginnings in a mining family is by now a familiar starting point to reach, on merit, the highest echelons in your chosen field of endeavor, though the journey is no longer as arduous nor unusual as it once was. The post-war Welfare State created by a Labour government, with an education system free for all, has seen to that (there are signs that a later Labour government is slowly but surely dismantling it, but that's another story). Vernon Pugh's generation was the first to benefit from the education on offer and he took full advantage of it. This was something the earlier generations didn't have, even though a few somehow managed, against all the odds, to reach positions of eminence, proving that with enough determination, talent will out, whatever obstacles are found along the way.

Family often seems to be the key factor in this process and Vernon Pugh was to be no exception to this rule. His father was a miner and a self-educated socialist who once took his three teenage sons down a pit, telling them when they reached the surface: "I never want to see you near a place like this again."

We'll let the obituarists have their say now, only to comment that knives have to be sharpened before a corpse can be dissected effectively, something at least one of the writers below is aware of. There was a time, too, when you never spoke ill of the dead because they couldn't answer back; the very reason now, it would seem, that you do.

Eddie Butler
The Observer
Sunday April 27, 2003

They say that no person is bigger than the game, but Vernon Pugh, who died on Thursday, came pretty close to bucking the cliché. For the best part of a decade, he truly was lord and master of rugby union. As chairman of the International Rugby Board, he delivered the game into professionalism and planned its survival thereafter, he expanded the Five Nations to embrace Italy, he carried rugby into China and he forged the Heineken Cup and Parker Pen Shield in Europe.
.....He was a mover and a shaker in a sport that did not like to move and hated being shaken. Thus, along the way, he made enemies. But nobody ever laid a finger on him. The lawyer in him approved of his track record in the chambers of rugby politics, but I think the great player that he never really was loved it even more that he always side-stepped trouble. For one so unmarked by years in a contact sport – and the political side of his rugby was just as brutal as the field of play – it is difficult to take in that he could be claimed so abruptly by cancer.
.....He first rose to rugby prominence as an investigator into the 1989 rebel Welsh tour to South Africa. The critical report by this Welsh-speaking QC paved the way for a 1993 vote of no confidence in the Welsh Rugby Union and for his appointment as chairman of the same body.
.....He did not stay long in his own back yard. And no sooner had he gone on to higher office with the IRB than he was involved in the biggest threat to the game in 100 years. The southern-hemisphere countries who ruled the playing side of rugby – Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – declared to the new chairman of the world authority that immediately after the World Cup of 1995 they would be playing professional rugby. It was a done deal. Not even Pugh could negotiate a way out of that.
.....But he avoided schism by pronouncing the game 'open' with immediate effect everywhere. Professional rugby was born and we have been living with the consequences of that decision ever since. The owners of the clubs in Wales and then England railed against Pugh as he refused to grant to them the commercial autonomy they felt they needed to run the new game. Tycoons, such as Rupert Murdoch, whose satellite channels were to fund the new Super 12 and Tri-Nations tournaments, had laid one trap for him in 1995, and he would not fall into another. He would cede to them no more control of his game.
.....It was a kind of revenge. As was the decision to take the World Cup of 2003 away from New Zealand. 'Clean' stadiums ['clean', that is, of the stadium's own advertising content] was the official reason for making Australia sole host of this autumn's tournament, but this was also personal between Pugh and the Kiwis. Their subsequent abuse of him – they called him 'a smalltime town-planner' – revealed just how personal. And the immediate retraction was even clearer evidence of how risky it was to mess with a grand-scale conveyancer.
.....He always said that he wanted to step aside from rugby and devote more time to his land law. But this may have been a cover for ambitions in a different direction. He was being touted for high office in the International Olympic Committee. Now that would have been interesting – the Puritan sifting through the stockpiles of freebies.
.....How has he left rugby? Well, the arguments around him and about him rage on. There has been nothing but chaos in Wales ever since he left. He will not be remembered with admiration if his legacy proves just as bankrupt wherever he passed.
.....It won't be. China was his mission and who knows what seed he sowed there, what new force will one day be able to trace their rise directly back to him? He had a vision of an expanded game, but equally he leaves the game robust in its old homes, from the Tri to the Six Nations. The Heineken Cup is the future of our continent's rugby.
.....Vernon Pugh won all his arguments, but it remains to be seen whether he created two fresh rows for every motion passed in his favour. There remains much resentment that may quickly rise above the simmering. And much jockeying for position to fill the power vacuum. He made rugby politics dynamic, and dynamic they are going to remain. The shape of what comes next will determine the shape of our monument to him.

Paul Rees
The Guardian
Saturday April 26, 2003

The man who brought much needed reform to Welsh and international rugby union

Vernon Pugh, who has died aged 57, was international rugby union's most influential figure and a leading QC on planning and environment issues.
.....At the start of 1993, he was coaching a junior club, Cardiff Harlequins, but that April, the Welsh rugby union's general committee was overthrown. This followed the leak of Pugh's 1989 report into Welsh involvement in the centenary celebrations of the then South African rugby board.
.....Pugh was hired by the WRU to find out why so many Welsh players and administrators had gone to South Africa. In an unsolicited addendum, he concluded that the governing body was ill-equipped to run the game in a commercial era, and recommended wholesale reform. The WRU never published the addendum, nor did it make its member clubs aware of its existence. When the South Wales Echo published it in February 1993, clubs forced the WRU's general committee to hold an extraordinary meeting. New elections followed a vote of no confidence.
.....Pugh refused to stand until two hours before nominations closed. He topped the poll as national representative and was elected the general committee's first chairman – a position he held until 1997. He became one of Wales's two representatives on the international rugby board, and was its chairman within 12 months.
.....The chairmanship was in those days awarded on a rotational basis, with the eight foundation unions (England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia) taking it in turns to hold the position for a year. Pugh persuaded the IRB's council to change the system and in 1996 he became its first elected chairman. He had served two three-year terms and was planning to stand down after the World Cup this autumn, before he was diagnosed with cancer last September.
.....As chairman of the board's amateur committee, it was Pugh who announced in August 1995 that rugby union was becoming open and abandoning its most cherished principle, that of not paying anyone for playing a part in the game. He was later accused of not giving unions enough time to prepare, but he had announced a review of amateurism in March that year. After the World Cup, which was held that summer in South Africa, reports appeared suggesting that the Australian mogul Kerry Packer was trying to tempt the cream of the world's playing talent into joining a professional circus. Pugh described amateurism as a dam which could no longer hold water.
.....He was a pioneer. He helped set up the Heineken Cup, a tournament competed for by the leading clubs and provinces in Europe; he was instrumental in securing Italy's place in the Six Nations Championship; he worked assiduously to get rugby union accepted back into the Olympics; he established the international Sevens circuit to broaden the sport's popularity in a version of the game more readily understandable to neutrals than 15-a-side; and he had a vision of rugby union as a game of international appeal rather than one which had significance in only a few countries. He persuaded China to join the IRB and believed that the sport's future depended on getting a toehold in countries with large populations, such as the US.
.....It was one of the reasons why he arranged an inaugural contest between the hemispheres last November: he saw it as a means of raising money for emerging nations, but his illness allowed vested interests to prevail and the game was called off.
.....Pugh was born in Glynmoch near Ammanford. His father was a miner and a self-educated socialist who took his three teenage sons down a pit, telling them when they reached the surface: "I never want to see you near a place like this again."

Vernon Pugh, future Chairman of the International Rugby Board, is in the 3rd row from top, third from right, in this Amman Valley Grammar School photograph taken in 1959. Also present in the photograph (and in the pages of this web site) is rock musician John Cale (bottom row, far left). Top row, far right, is TV and radio broadcaster Roy Noble.

.....Pugh was educated at Amman Valley Grammar School, the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, and Downing College, Cambridge where he gained his LLB [Law Degree]. He was called to the bar in 1969 and achieved his ambition of becoming a QC before the age of 40.
.....He played in the centre for Pontypridd and Cardiff HSOB. His passion was coaching – he took charge of Welsh Universities at the same time he became the board's full-time chairman – and he longed to see Wales as a major force in the world game again.
....."Vernon was the greatest administrator Wales has produced," said the former WRU secretary Dennis Gethin, a contemporary of Pugh's at Cambridge. "There has been no better one in the world in my time, but I suspect he would have given it all up to become the coach of Wales."
.....Pugh turned down a high court judgeship because he would have had to give up his IRB position. His sharp intellect meant many regarded him as aloof and arrogant, but far from arrogance, he was warm and convivial among friends and disarmingly polite to those who crossed him. He was a radical for whom too much tradition was dangerous: his aim was to turn the IRB into a business and he wanted to hand over the chairmanship to a chief executive rather than someone on a union's committee.
.....A keen soccer player in his youth, Pugh was an avid racegoer and was at the Cheptsow meeting two days before his death, having attended the wedding of his daughter Nerys 11 days before. He died at a hospice in Penarth.
.....He is survived by his wife, Dorinda, and their three daughters, Non, Nerys and Nia.

By Alex Lowe, PA Sport

April 25th, 2003

Griffiths leads Pugh tributes

Welsh Rugby Union chairman Glanmor Griffiths today led the tributes to International Rugby Board chairman Vernon Pugh QC, who lost his long battle with cancer last night.Pugh, chairman of the WRU between 1993-1997, had a tumour removed from his kidneys last September, but was forced to hand over the reins to acting chairman Dr Syd Millar as his condition worsened.
.....Pugh was an integral figure in rugby's switch to professionalism and his passing has been described as "a very sad day for rugby".......
.....The WRU today described him as "the driving-force behind some of the most far-reaching developments in the history of the game, both at home and abroad."
.....Griffiths said: "The name of Vernon Pugh will forever be etched into the history of Welsh rugby for his many achievements in a brilliant career with the WRU.
....."He became the first chairman of the WRU in 1993 after being elected as a National Representative.
..... "He presided over a difficult period in Welsh rugby, but was instrumental in creating new wealth for our game via TV and sponsorship deals and gave Wales a powerful and authoritative voice on the Five Nations and IRB committees.
..... "It was no surprise to any one who worked alongside him at the WRU that he was able to move into senior roles with both the IRB and the Rugby World Cup. He had a brilliant mind and a great love for rugby.
..... "He will be sorely missed by the rugby world, but especially here in Wales."
..... After four years in charge of the WRU, Pugh became the IRB's first independent chairman and oversaw the expansion of the Rugby World Cup, Italy's inclusion in the Six Nations and the development of the Heineken Cup.
.....Griffiths' comments were echoed throughout the rugby world today.
..... WRU chief executive David Moffett hailed Pugh's efforts in developing the World Cup into one of the world's foremost sporting events while maintaining his links with grass roots rugby in the principality.
..... "He helped to take the IRB into a new era and his sharp mind was responsible for turning the Rugby World Cup into an outstanding financial success," said Moffett.
..... "He will be greatly missed at all levels of rugby, from the corridors of power at the IRB and Rugby World Cup, right down to the Welsh Universities, a team he was so proud to be associated with as one of their coaches.
..... "Vernon Pugh will be remembered as one of the outstanding rugby administrators of his age, a rare breed who was able to combine his lifelong passion for rugby with a brilliant career as a sporting administrator."
..... In developing the now hugely successful Heineken Cup, Pugh worked closely with Jean-Pierre Lux, chairman of European Rugby Cup Ltd, who considered the Welshman a close friend.
..... Speaking in Toulouse ahead of this weekend's semi-finals, Lux said: "Vernon was involved with ERC when I arrived and when I took over as chairman four years ago.
..... "The English clubs had just come back into Europe and he was always very supportive with all the difficult and hard decisions.
..... "This is a very sad day. Vernon was a friend of mine. It is a big loss for rugby. He was a great chairman of the IRB and Rugby World Cup and today is a very sad day both for me personally and for rugby."
..... Another who had close links with Pugh, Italian president Giancarlo Dondi, reacted with shock at the news.
..... "He is a 'persona grata' in this country as he was crucial in Italy's incorporation into the Six Nations, for which we are eternally grateful," he told PA International.
..... "He will not be forgotten, our thoughts are with his wife and children."
..... Italy's team manager Marco Bollesan added: "It is very sad, we hope his enthusiasm and support for rugby continues in the green pitches of heaven.
..... On behalf of the IRB, Millar released a brief statement to break the news this morning.
..... "It is with deepest regret that I have to inform you that Vernon Pugh QC, our chairman, sadly died last night," said Millar, who is also chairman of the British and Irish Lions committee.
..... "He had been ill for some time and our thoughts and condolences go out to his family."

Daily Telegraph
28th April 2003

Vernon Pugh, who has died aged 57, was a QC specialising in planning and environmental law, and the bold and forthright rugby union administrator responsible for turning the game professional in 1995.
.....A coal miner's son, Glanville Vernon Pugh was born on July 5 1945 in the Amman Valley, Carmarthenshire. When he and his two brothers were teenagers their father took them down the pit, then told them: "I never want to see you near a place like this again." Thus influenced, Vernon progressed from the local grammar school to University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, then to Downing, Cambridge, to read Law.
.....Called to the Bar by Lincoln's Inn in 1969, he joined chambers in Cardiff and built a busy practice, specialising in the water industry, landfill inquiries, pollution and environmentally sensitive development plans. He took Silk in 1986, served as a recorder and passed up an invitation to become a High Court judge only because of his interest in rugby administration.
.....A hard-tackling centre three-quarter, Pugh played for Amman United, Leicester, Pontypridd, St Peter's and Cardiff High School Old Boys, before turning to coaching, with great enthusiasm, at Cardiff HSOB, which he renamed Cardiff Harlequins. In 1989 the Welsh Rugby Union asked him to write a report on the Welsh rugby players who had joined an international squad helping to celebrate the centenary of the rugby board of South Africa, then still ostracised because of apartheid.
.....Pugh produced a damning critique of the players and administrators involved, plus an unsolicited addendum recommending wholesale reform of the Welsh Rugby Union – which he said was not up to running the game in the commercial era. Not made public by the WRU, his addendum did not surface until 1993, when it appeared in the South Wales Echo.
.....Uproar led to a vote of no confidence in the WRU, followed by new committee elections. Pugh refused to stand until the eleventh hour, but was then elected chairman, which he remained until 1997. By that time he had become the first elected chairman of the International Rugby Board, in 1996; and the year before that, as chairman of the IRB's amateurism committee, he had persuaded traditionalists that rugby had no option but to relinquish its amateur status.
.....Pugh recognised that if the IRB did not establish control of the sport and reward players financially, then entrepreneurs such as Kerry Packer surely would. Under his guidance the sport embraced professionalism, albeit a century too late according to those in the northern union, whose desire to see working men paid for labour led to the breakaway of 1893 and the formation of rugby league.
.....One of Pugh's ambitions was to see rugby union recognised again as an Olympic sport. It last featured in the games in 1924, and he lobbied assiduously to have it readmitted. Rugby is now officially recognised as a contender for Olympic inclusion, although it will not feature in the 2008 Beijing Games.
.....Under Pugh's chairmanship, membership of the IRB doubled to 100. He was a driving force behind Italy's admission to the Five Nations championship in 2000. He became a director of Rugby World Cup in 1996, and that year helped set up the Heineken Cup, for European clubs and provinces. All this while holding down his practice as a barrister.
.....At times he was guilty of corralling too much power. Everything had to pass his scrutiny and he made enemies. He was furious with the Rugby Football Union for brokering a unilateral deal in 1996 with BSkyB television, a stance that saw England temporarily expelled from the Five Nations. He was suspicious of the new breed of millionaire owners that came into the English game in the wake of professionalism, men such as Sir John Hall and Frank Warren.
.....There was an acrimonious falling-out with the New Zealand Rugby Union last year when Pugh stripped them of their co-host status, alongside Australia, for this year's World Cup after they failed to comply with certain commercial strictures. Pugh did not enjoy those battles, but he was prepared to fight them.
.....Vernon Pugh was diagnosed with cancer last September. He attended his daughter's wedding two weeks ago and spent last Tuesday at Chepstow Races. He died on Thursday.
.....He is survived by his wife, Dorinda, and their three daughters.


After his death Vernon Pugh would become one of the elite few to gain an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, joining the great and good of British history from Roman times to the present (including plenty of the not so good). This run-though of two millennia of British history was first published in the 19th century, and the completely revised version that appeared in sixty double-columned volumes in 2004 (price: £7,500) contains entries for over 56,000 of those deemed to have influenced British history in some way, great or small. The entry on Vernon Pugh sums his life up thus:

Short, bespectacled, and in later years somewhat portly, he may not have looked like a revolutionary, but he was one: a man of formidable intellect and persuasive charm, disarmingly polite to those who crossed him, he was the consummate sports politician.

The same Dictionary of National Biography gives his wealth at death at £1,321,756 (probate).

Finally, to illustrate the interest Vernon Pugh attracted even before the obituarists were given employment, here is an item from the BBC website back in 2002, sadly wrong in the prophesy of its last line: "And he looks destined to hold on to his role, health permitting." As ever, the journalistic need for a snappy headline is given preference over accuracy – Vernon Pugh was never the 'miner' of the headline below (his father was) – while the by now compulsory pun, as always, is more irritant than informative.

From miner to major player
Kingmaker: Vernon Pugh
By Matt Majendie
BBC Sport Online
Tuesday, 15 October, 2002

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.
.....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.
.....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."
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 ...

Glanville Vernon Pugh, lawyer and rugby administrator, born July 5 1945; died April 24 2003.

Date thi September 6, 2010 s page last updated