George Harold Pugh
George Pugh was a forward from the Newtown Club who had his year of glory. It was to be 1912, as a 22-year-old. Others from the Newtown Club who shone in this time period were Alf Dunbar, Charlie Hodgens and Stephen Slater. Pugh played for NSW against Queensland three times in 1911 and 1912, and was selected for the 1912 tour of the United States and Canada, captained by Ward Prentice. It was somewhat of a disastrous tour by Australia, as they lost all of their matches in Canada. It did not help matters that the team were housed in University fraternity houses, and the social life, as well as their inability to train, was simply too much.
The tour is in stark contrast to the All Blacks tour of 1913, winning all of its sixteen games by wide margins, and scoring 610 points to a mere six by the opposition. The Australian tour remains a low-point of Australian teams, unless social success is counted. Pugh appeared to be one of the hardest-working on the tour. He played against the Barbarians, Stanford University (twice), University of California at Berkeley (3), St Mary’s College, University of Nevada, Santa Clara College, University of Southern California, Vancouver, British Columbia, Victoria (BC) and the one Test at the University of California at Berkeley against All America.
Australia were behind 0-8 at the half, and scraped home to win 12-8. An Australian, Billy Hill, secretary and later President of the NSWRU, refereed the Test. The Australian team which played at the University of California at Berkeley on 16 November 1912 against the USA was Alf Dunbar, Dan Carroll, Larry Dwyer, Ward Prentice (capt.), Lou Meibusch, Bob Adamson, Arthur Walker, Tom Richards, Bill Murphy, Allan Kent, Ted Fahey, George Pugh, Willie Watson, Tom Griffin and Harold George. What is little understood is that a sampling of Presidents of US Universities got together and agreed to ban football on their campuses because of the alarming death-rate and the overt commercialism. The flying wedge was an instrument of disaster. So American football was subsequently banned in the state of California. The so-called ‘Big Game’, between Stanford and Berkeley, was now a rugby game.
The acceptance of the game is demonstrated in the grounds of the University of California at Berkeley, where a life-size bronze statue of a rugby player being bandaged is the gift to the University by the Class of 1910. Rugby would perhaps be the principal winter game in the United States had it not been for the First World War. ‘Varsity competitions were cancelled because of the War, and when the soldiers came back American football was resumed. On his return to Australia after the exhilarating social tour of 1912, George was not heard from again in representative rugby.