5 rugby legends who successfully tackled the business world

18 September 2015 -


From doing battle on the rugby pitch to doing business in the boardroom, these rugby stars have all found success after hanging up their boots

Jermaine Haughton

Four years after hosts New Zealand lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy for the second time, England captain Chris Robshaw will lead out his team at Twickenham tonight to kick-off six weeks of action-packed World Cup rugby.

From 20-year-old New Zealander Jonah Lomu propelling himself into superstardom crushing opponents on his way to the final in 1995 to Jonny Wilkinson kicking England to World Cup glory against arch-enemies Australia in Sydney with just 28 seconds on the clock, there have been a series of fantastic moments from the competition since its 1987 inauguration.

With all four home nations harbouring high hopes of performing well in the tournament, the respective players will see their physicality, decision-making and temperament pushed to the limit in front of sell-out crowds.

For some, this will be their only chance to perform at this world-class level of sporting competition, while the best teams and performers will print their name into the history books.

For players who thrive under such pressure, the discipline they displayed on the rugby field has provided a substantial foundation for successes in their working life post-retirement, particularly in the business world.

Here are five rugby stars who have made a success of their transition from pitch to boardroom.


Phil Vickery, England (1998-2010)

Initially nicknamed Raging Bull by legendary coach Sir Clive Woodward in 1997, Vickery enjoyed an illustrious international career winning 73 England caps over 12 years and playing in the British and Irish Lions’ tours in Australia in 2001 and South Africa in 2009. The tighthead prop was a key member of England’s World Cup-winning campaign in 2003, and captained the team to the 2007 finals, eventually losing to the Springboks.

Following his retirement in 2010 due to injury, Vickery established his own fashion line named after his moniker. Featuring rugby-inspired tops and T-shirts, shirts, footwear and knitwear, the Raging Bull brand is stocked in 30 House of Fraser stores and 90 independent retailers in the UK.

Attracting an annual turnover of around £3m, Vickery has given out shirts, sweaters and chinos for the Tongan national rugby team to wear during this World Cup.

Neil Back, England (1994-2003)

The former Leicester Tigers flanker played in three World Cups, including the 2003 winning campaign, and was a part of three consecutive Lions tours in South Africa 1997, Australia 2001 & New Zealand 2005. A reliable and vocal member of the dressing room, Back stepped in as captain on four occasions when Martin Johnson was injured, and is the only English Forward to ever score a drop goal.

Following his 66 caps and flourishing club career at Leicester, Back has sought to replicate such success in the insurance industry by co-founding Adelphi Special Risks. Based in Milton Keynes, the specialist and corporate risks broker also provides private clients insurance as an ancillary service and reportedly has Lotus F1 on its books.

“FrancoisPienaar" François Pienaar, South Africa (1993-1996)

An inspiring leader that united post-apartheid South Africa according to former Prime Minister Nelson Mandela, Pienaar is a national treasure in his homeland. Captaining South Africa from his first match, Pienaar led his team to a famous victory at the World Cup in 1995, and won virtually all individual accolades from South African Rugby player of the year in 1993 through International Rugby player of the year in 1994 to International Rugby Captain of the year in 1995.

Noted for his fiercely competitive spirit, he was the focus of Oscar-nominated movie “Invictus” in 2009. Off the field, the Transvaal-native holds law degrees from the University of Johannesburg and has developed a successful career in the sports and media industry. With interests in a number of ventures, including a branding and logistics business, a below-the-line marketing and activation business, and a sportswear manufacturing business called No Limits, Pienaar was a major figure in the establishment of Varsity Sport competitions, helping develop athletes across a number of sports at South Africa’s top universities.

Sir Anthony Joseph Francis O'Reilly, Ireland (1955-1970)

Quite possibly Ireland’s first billionaire, Sir Anthony has had a career as both a rugby player and a businessman for the best part of 60 years. As a rugby player, he represented Ireland, the British and Irish Lions and the Barbarians. The 72-year-old set the record for the number of tries scored on a British Lions tour on several occasions, finally scoring 38 tries in 1959.

Firmly enshrined as a member of the International Rugby Board's Hall of Fame, the Irish national hero led FMCG firm H.J Heinz Company as chief executive in 1979, and is widely credited with turning the company into a major global competitor. The serial entrepreneur also held control of Independent News & Media from 1973 to 2009, the former owners of British national newspapers the Independent and Independent on Sunday.

Although, O’Reilly reportedly found himself and his companies in significant financial difficulty largely due to the 2008 crash, the national hero still ranks as one of the country’s most successful men.


George Gregan, Australia (1994-2007)

A tactical mastermind on the rugby field, former Australian rugby captain George Gregan has gone from grinding out World Cup results to grinding coffee beans. The Wallabies scrum-half led the team to World Cup victory in 1999, earning 139 caps for his country and his induction into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2009.

Since retirement, the 42-year-old and his wife Erica have opened their own coffee shop chain in Australia under the Gregan Group brand. Combining the former rugby star’s contacts and leadership experience with Erica’s hotels and restaurant sector expertise, the pair have established 16 GG Espresso cafes across Sydney, with their brand also extending to bars, restaurants and a catering company. Employing up to 280 people, the company has annual revenues of more than £4.7m.