Auckland experience boosts rising Western Force star

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Pugh, 22, made his Super Rugby Pacific debut for the Force against Moana Pasifika last year and played in Australia A's team for the Pacific Nations Cup.

From there, Auckland recruited him as a lock, but he ended up playing No8 throughout the campaign, an outcome he was delighted with.

Pugh told, "I remember my first game was the Battle of the Bridge against North Harbour which had a massive build-up which made it so special, plus the quality was pretty close to Super level."

Being part of the Auckland scene allowed him to spend time with All Blacks Akira Ioane and Patrick Tuipulotu.

While Auckland lost to eventual champions Wellington in the Cup semifinals, Pugh said the experience was invaluable for him.

"Playing with the likes of Akira Ioane, I took a lot out of how they work on their craft.

"I know how they train and their standards, so I'm looking to keep myself at that standard.

"It's been a big year. I wasn't expecting to make that Aussie A team, but I was lucky enough to get selected and then to pick up Auckland was a great experience."

Before being exposed to those levels, he said he struggled with his confidence.

"I've been a pretty timid young player in the Force, so it's given me the confidence I can actually make it, to confidence to back myself has been huge."

He said having Simon Cron come in as coach for the Force had been a help in growing his confidence.

"I've been talking to him a lot about that aspect, so him coming in can help. He's very big on where we are mentally and that we're here to win, not just compete.

"We're a very young team, so coming in with those foundations that we can win has been huge.

"We want to start strong against the Rebels at home as every team does. That's all we're focusing on at the moment. We're about 30 days away, so it's about taking it week-by-week. We're not going to look too far forward, just keeping the focus on what's ahead."