Scrum Down With Jason Leonard

Jason Leonard has won it all; World Cup? Check. Lions’ Tour? Check. International Rugby Hall of Fame? Check. But could he crack the stock market?  Mark Southern found out if England’s lion was a pussy cat.

As first published in The Exchange Magazine, 2011 

When it comes to meeting challenges head on and coming out successful the other side there’s very little Jason Leonard doesn’t know.  A World Cup winners medal, a Lions Tour series win, numerous Five Nations, Six Nations and Grand Slam titles are proof of that.

Throw in his personal achievements, which include being the most capped England rugby player of all time, a captain of his country and being only the fourth Englishman to be inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame, and you begin to appreciate just what a goliath Leonard has been in the sport he has loved, and dominated, for so long.

And, despite retiring from rugby in 2004, Jason is still looking for new challenges to overcome, which is why we were very excited when he agreed to take up the mantle as our celebrity trader this month.

Leonard is also a man who knows something about pressure.  As the cornerstone of the England front row for almost fifteen years, he certainly knows about the physical side of stress.  Afterall, there aren’t many of us who would even contemplate putting our bodies through the rigour and strain he has throughout his rugby career.

And having played in, and won, a World Cup final, he also knows what it’s like to stare expectation in the face and still come out a winner.

Yet despite displaying a fearless nature on the pitch, just the thought of turning his hand to trading full time has Jason reeling.

“There are too many ways that you can lose a huge amount of money for me.  You definitely need courage to be a good trader.  Personally I’d rather have Jonah Lomu running at me instead!”

But how did Jason do when given the opportunity to be this month’s celebrity trader?

“I don’t really have that much experience of trading,” he is quick to point out, but can remember back to a time when trading and rugby went hand in hand.

“In the amateur days of rugby union a lot of players used to work for trading houses.  They’d get up early, do a day’s work in the City, and then train in the evenings.  But the most I’ve ever done is a few trading house charity days working the phones.  That was scary enough.”

However, when it came down to business Jason was nowhere near as hesitant as he might have imagined.  He admits that he might have closed profitable positions slightly too early on occasions, but once he’d gotten into the swing of things his fear of the markets quickly evaporated.

A series of well-timed trades, including buying mining giant Fresnillo and selling British Airways, reaped a healthy reward that more than covered smaller losses.

Unfortunately for Jason he fell £500 short of being the first celebrity to conquer a professional trader in our celebrity trader challenge.

His opponent Adam Stark finished the trading session with a profit of £10,610.58 from his starting account of £100,000, besting Jason’s profit of £10,120.25 by just 0.5%.

Jason’s disappointed to have come so close to winning, but overall he’s happy with his results across the challenge.

When the conversation returns to rugby, we’re keen to find out what Jason thinks of the Home Nations’ chances of bringing the World Cup back from New Zealand at the end of the month.  Unsurprisingly it’s the Kiwis who he’s backing as the overwhelming favourites for the Webb Ellis Trophy.

“They’ve choked before, but now they’ve got home advantage and the expectation of a nation behind them, not to mention a world class squad”, he explains.  That doesn’t mean he’s prepared to count out England though, who’ve been to the past two World Cup finals and have a number of past tournament winners in their squad, just yet.

“It looks like there will be a Northern Hemisphere team in the final, and once you get there you’ve always got a chance.  The bounce of a ball, a referee’s decision, any lucky break can determine a rugby game on a given day.  There have been bigger upsets before.  And even though England haven’t played their best rugby in New Zealand so far, you have to think there’s more to come.”

He continues riffing rugby, “England are the current Six Nations champions so we know they’ve got quality players in their side, and they’ve been to the last two World Cup finals, so they know how tournament rugby works.  When it comes to knockout rugby England are historically one of the strongest teams in the world.  And that’s where New Zealand have been found out in the past.”

And if he could use his extensive experience to trade rugby instead of stocks, just where would he put his money?

“How could it not be Jonny Wilkinson?” Jason replies.  “His stock has always been sky high, he’s kicked teams to victory so many times.  He was virtually out of the game for a couple of years because of injuries, but he’s fought his way back, reclaimed the England no. 10 jersey, and is now considered one of the best players in the world again.  He’s also one of the most popular sportsmen of his generation and a great ambassador for rugby, so if you could invest in him you definitely would. His stock is fantastically high.”

A slight nod to nostalgia, perhaps?  Afterall, it was Jonny’s last minute drop goal that Jason has to thank for the World Cup winners medal that takes pride of place in his trophy cabinet.

Leonard is predictably defensive, “Of course not, because Wilkinson’s career achievements stretch much further than that. As well as at one time being the leading points scorer of all time in test rugby, if England do make it to the final later this month Wilkinson will be the first fly half to lead his team to three consecutive World Cup finals.  Not a bad place to start then if you’re looking a blue chip to put your money on!”

Conversation moves on to a more global scene, with Jason warming to the theme, “If you wanted to diversify your portfolio and invest in another player as well I think it would have to be Jonah Lomu”.

“He’s a global brand.  When he burst onto the international rugby scene nobody had seen a player like him before, he completely changed the game.  In the past try-scoring wingers would have been 5’9”, speedy and nine stone dripping wet.  Jonah was 6’5”, 19 1⁄2 stone and could run the hundred metres in under 11 seconds.  He was amazing; a complete athlete, and with skills too.  I don’t think we’ve seen a rugby player’s stock higher than Lomu’s was in 1995.”

Unfortunately investing in Wilkinson or even Sonny Bill Williams, Lomu’s heir apparent, is still a pipe dream (unless we’re talking sports spread betting, which coincidently we will be in a few pages time), so for now Jason will have to stick to betting the financials.

Which is fine because, just like controlling the scrum for England, as we’ve found out, he’s very good at that.


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