Toby Flood started his rugby career with Newcastle Falcons in 2004 and went on to achieve 60 caps for England. A DBL client since 2006, Toby returned to his first club in 2017, after a six-year spell at Leicester Tigers and three years of playing in France. Toby sat down with Benchmark to reflect on his journey so far, how the COVID-19 pandemic may have impacted approaches to finances and how retirement, when it arrives, will still be difficult, no matter how much planning you may have completed.

“I do not think you can ever be completely prepared, mentally, to stop doing something you love. We are so lucky to be getting paid for something we enjoy and when that comes to an end it will be difficult, no matter how prepared you are.”

Retirement is not really actively on Toby Flood’s radar. Earlier in 2020 he signed a contract extension to play for Newcastle Falcons until at least 2022. But, then again, the end of a rugby playing career will come one day. It is something that Toby recognises and for which he has started to make plans.

“I have been using the last four to five years to look at the inevitable. Mentally the answer is ‘no’. But injury is always around the corner. We are not too stressed about the end and we are prepared financially. But that does not mean it will not be a mental shock when it happens.”

Toby’s journey of paying close attention to his financial situation and planning for his future started with someone he calls “the superstar of our generation”.

“Matthew Tait was playing for England when he was eighteen. He realised he wanted some help with his finances and there was a group of us that thought it was a good idea. The sportsman’s pension was about about to end and we needed someone who was going to look after our best interests. We had to scramble together £250 or £300 to pay for it, I think. It was an obscene amount of money at the time! When you are eighteen or nineteen you do not think about being thirty-five. You think about the finances you have then. But it was a good start.”

The mindset of being young and planning for your future is something that Toby thinks has improved within the game, though the help available could go further.

“At the time no one talked about being financially prepared for the future and if they had, at nineteen, I would not have been part of that conversation anyway. Now people do mention it. Sudden retirement through injury is more of a topic. It is better, but it is still a challenge for the younger generation.”

“The top players will have help but the guys who are just coming in, may not be looking at being England professionals, nor do they have enough by way of advice. If you are a young lad on, say, £1,000 net and you are asked to put £250 of that away for your future, I think most would still find it quite hard. At twenty or twenty-one, you seem to have endless time left in the game.”

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may have jolted some professionals to reconsider their financial picture. Premiership rugby was initially suspended on the 16th March this year. Since that time both domestic club and international bodies have addressed salaries and match fee reductions with players.

“COVID in my case has perhaps impacted my future pathway out of the game and the dynamic of planning considerations, because things are just a little less certain. If you are young and still in the game it may have changed your approach to a certain extent, but you will still be getting a percentage of whatever you are on. It may not be enough to make people think more about putting some money away. There needs to be more people at clubs talking to young players even to say ‘you should maximise your ISA’.”

Even though retirement is some way off, it has not stopped Toby from weighing up his options and looking at future careers. But for the immediate future, the focus is clear.

“I have had work experience in the city and passed the IMC Level 2 (Investment Management Certificate). It intrigues me. I need to spend more time looking and reading about the options. At the moment our planning conversations are a little softer, mainly because of the uncertainty COVID has created. The definitives are not all sorted, but I have time. I am looking forward to at least another two years of rugby first.”