The captain who lifts the World Cup in two days may get a head start for life post-rugby as professionalism leaves players with less time to prepare for a career after sport.
New Zealand’s Richie McCaw or France’s Thierry Dusautoir will become the seventh man to raise the Webb Ellis Cup at Auckland’s Eden Park. Four of their six predecessors have transferred those leadership skills to sectors including finance, publishing and consulting. England’s Martin Johnson and South Africa’s John Smit, the last two victorious captains, still count rugby as their day job.
“The same ingredients go towards success,” John Eales, Australia’s 1999 World Cup-winning captain, said in a phone interview. “People have a perception of your reputation and you’ll still find businesses out there who are prepared to give you a go as long as you can add value for them.”
After finishing his playing career as the most-successful Wallabies captain, Eales co-founded Mettle Group, a firm that advises businesses on corporate culture and leadership which was acquired in 2007 by Chandler Macleod Group Ltd. The 41-year-old Eales straddled rugby’s amateur and professional eras, also playing at the 1991 World Cup that Australia also won.
Rugby union went professional in the southern hemisphere 16 years ago on the back of a $555 million, 10-year broadcasting agreement with News Corp. Eales, who has advised companies including Qantas Airways Ltd. and BT Financial Group, where he began his post-rugby career in 2001, said he was able to complete a psychology degree before sport became his profession.
Hard to ‘Kick-On’
With rugby dominating their time and opportunities to play on longer available to them, modern pros face a struggle to get the necessary qualifications and know-how to move into business once they’ve retired, said David Kirk, who lifted the 1987 World Cup as New Zealand captain and later became chief executive officer of Fairfax Media Ltd., Australia’s second-largest newspaper publisher.
“It’s harder,” Kirk, who quit international rugby at the age of 26 to take up a Rhodes Scholarship at England’s Oxford University, said in a phone interview. “You can’t go into your mid-30s and then expect to pick up the sort of education and work experience that you need.”
Kirk, 51, is chairman of Australia and New Zealand cinema group Hoyts Corp. and president of the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association, which has represented current and past professionals and those playing overseas since 1999.
The Auckland-based organization, which advises players on career development as well as their welfare on and off the pitch, says they need to be flexible in how they go about acquiring the qualifications and tertiary education necessary for a career after rugby.
“Because they don’t have the opportunity to study full-time, they’ve got to approach the concept differently,” Rob Nichol, the association’s CEO, said in a telephone interview. “They’ve got to accept that it will take them longer.”
Dan Vickerman, a second-rower in Australia’s World Cup squad, opted to take a two-year break from the professional game to study agricultural economics at England’s Cambridge University before winning back his spot in the Wallabies team.
New Zealand center Conrad Smith, a member of the All Blacks’ leadership group, used an injury-enforced break to complete his law qualifications and fits work at a Wellington-based legal firm around his rugby commitments.
“If he gets a spare day in Wellington, he just walks into the office and he’s a solicitor,” Nichol said. “Some of these guys have got serious potential at a business level. The same attributes and characteristics that make them successful in terms of high performance sport will make them successful in business. It’s about them working out how to do that.”
The ability to handle pressure dynamics and execute collective strategies at rugby’s elite level is transferable to a business career, according to Australia’s 1991 World Cup-winning captain Nick Farr-Jones.
“It’s an exact synergy,” Farr-Jones, a director at Sydney-based Taurus Funds Management Pty Ltd. said in a telephone interview. “Both are about knowing your exact role and then following the correct processes to deliver results.”
Farr-Jones, who also worked for Societe Generale SA in Europe and Australia in the lender’s metal derivative and mining and commodity businesses, said his time representing the Wallabies was “an add-on” to his day job as a lawyer in a Sydney law firm.
While the opposite is the case for McCaw and Dusautoir, some similarities remain.
“You don’t get to hold up the Webb Ellis trophy by pulling a team together six months before the event,” Farr-Jones, 49, said. “It is blood, sweat and tears and often two, three or four years of procedure and learning from your mistakes. Those are lessons you can take with you.”