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From tries to trades – English rugby retains close banking links

Greenwood has seconds to answer the phone, pick out his colleague among the swirl of multi-coloured blazers in the trading pit and signal down the order using only hand gestures.

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The year is 1995. Greenwood will go on to play rugby more than 50 times for England and help his country win the World Cup. But the pressure he faced as a booth broker for Midland Bank at London’s futures exchange Liffe tops it all.

“I’ve often told my mates in the England dressing room that a World Cup final or a grand slam decider was a walk in the park compared to a sudden fluctuation in interest rates on the Liffe floor because that was all about survival,” says Greenwood.

Two decades later, Dan Luger — one of England’s most prolific try-scorers and another member of the 2003 Cup-winning squad — is analysing the headlines, charts and numbers that flit across his multiple computer screens.

With his quick feet and blistering pace, Luger never had a problem catching the eye of rugby selectors. Now he is hoping his latest recommendation on Italian bank shares will set him apart from the other brokers vying for business in the highly competitive world of European financial markets.

“The broking world is very much eat what you kill,” says Luger, an equity sales broker for Tavira Securities in Monaco.

“It was hard being a junior again at the age of 35 and trying to make yourself stand out.”

CONNECTIONS

Greenwood and Luger are two of the most high-profile names in English rugby to have had alternative careers in banking, but this is a link that spans the amateur and professional era of the sport.

With its roots in fee-paying boarding schools and top universities, rugby has always been perceived as a game for the political and business elite that run the country.

A common saying in Britain, which is loosely attributed to war-time prime minister Winston Churchill, is that “rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentleman”.

Rugby clubs such Harlequins, based near the national team’s home ground of Twickenham in south-west London, attracted young graduates with the promise of jobs in City during the financial boom of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

And when rugby turned professional in 1995, players such as Greenwood had a tough choice to make.

“At the time it was a huge decision. I was a nobody in the rugby world who was going to work and trade in the City having studied economics and been someone who loved his numbers,” said Greenwood.

“I’d never seen rugby as a career — it was something I did on a Tuesday and Thursday after work, and it gave my life a bit of structure.”

In the end Greenwood decided to go for it, and his tactical brain and rich understanding of the game set him up for a glittering playing career and then another in TV punditry and journalism.

BUSINESS COMMUNITY

Luger also enjoyed a long career, boasting an exceptional scoring ratio for England of 24 tries in 38 appearances. But on retirement, despite offers to stay in the sport, he opted to make use of his background in economics and banking to move into the world of finance.

Both agree that the relatively modest pay compared to sports such as football, and the greater potential for career-ending injuries, mean athletes have to be constantly thinking about life after rugby.

“It’s a business community in terms of the people who sponsor and watch it, they come from that kind of background, so they are the kind of the people you are meeting which helps,” says Luger.

“Probably in hindsight, I met some of the biggest hedge funds and banks in the world while I was playing rugby and could have made some pretty good contacts for broking.”

Unlike many of Luger’s generation, the challenge facing the current crop of players is that few have the chance to acquire further education before they begin their rugby careers. England’s current flyhalf, George Ford, was 16 when he made his professional debut for Leicester in 2009 and most professionals now pass through the clubs’ academy system.

But Steve White-Cooper, a former Harlequins player and founder of recruitment firm add-victor that specialises in placing ex-sportsmen in financial services jobs, says that business leaders remain on the lookout for rugby stars.

“They recognise that sport and business works neatly together and there are lot of transferable skills like communication, leadership, and teamwork,” he said.

“Players have got to utilise doors that can open, and use them as a stepping stone into life after rugby.”

(Editing by Mitch Phillips)

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