8 Business Lessons Inspired by the Six Nations: Insights from the Rugby Field

3 April 2024 | 5 min read

Author: Rob Quinn, CEO



The Six Nations finished last month and, as the players head back to their respective clubs for the run in to the end of the season, I’m still thinking about it! The tournament isn’t just an awesome rugby spectacle but a masterclass in leadership, team dynamics and strategic planning. The recent Netflix documentary ‘Full Contact’ offers an unparalleled look behind the scenes of the 2023 Six Nations Championship, revealing the grit and human stories beneath the glory. Watching it, I couldn’t help but apply some of the show’s insights to the business world. Below are my eight lessons. [The first five are from Ireland because, as winners of the Six Nations, they are now considered the world’s best team by many (Look away any South African fans!).]


1. Permission to Fail


Lesson: Mistakes are Stepping Stones to Excellence


Ireland’s winning head coach Andy Farrell is clear: mistakes happen and it’s futile to resist them happening. Acknowledging that errors are part of the journey and learning from them without fear can foster an innovative, resilient and adaptable business environment.


2. Stay in the Moment: The Andrew Porter Philosophy


Lesson: Remain Present to Propel Forward


Lesson 2 closely links to Lesson 1. Ireland prop Andrew Porter offers a candid reflection on mental resilience and the power of staying in the moment. He says: “If you’re an emotional person, you go through patches in any match when things aren’t going your way; it can affect you, but you have to learn to control it, focus on the present moment, and learn not to hold on to things.” Andrew’s quotation underlines a crucial business virtue. If you dwell on errors, you carry negative emotions and experiences forward. However, if you constantly focus on the ‘now’ and the immediate future, you can recalibrate – a strategy that leads to better outcomes.


3. Strength in Diversity: Andy Farrell’s Leadership


Lesson: Diverse Talent Drives Success


Ireland’s triumph under Andy Farrell’s leadership underscores the strength of diversity. In rugby, each professional athlete will respond differently to distinct treatment methods. Some need an arm around them, some need a slight kick up the backside, and others need ‘permission’ for their innate creative instincts to flourish. Recognising each player’s unique needs and responses can elevate a team from good to exceptional.


Business leaders, like elite sports coaches, should also recognise the power of understanding their team individually. Effective leadership isn’t one-size-fits-all; it requires a tailored approach that respects each person’s working style. By doing so, leaders can unlock their team’s full potential.


4. The Specialist Advantage


Lesson: Specialists Amplify Team Success


Andy Farrell also talks about the importance of specialist coaches and having expert leaders across the team. Just as rugby teams benefit from specialised coaches for different aspects of the game, businesses thrive when they leverage specialist skills across their operations. My personal view is that it’s vital to recognise your weaknesses – much more so than knowing strengths – and ensure you’ve got the right people around you to balance those.


5. Authentic Culture Wins


Lesson: Foster Genuine Expressions for a Thriving Culture


In Full Contact, Andy Farrell emphasises the importance of nurturing a team environment where everyone can be their true selves. The introvert must be made to feel comfortable, the extrovert must be given the power to be energetic, and the creative must be free to create. 


In business, this principle translates to creating a workspace where diversity of thought and personality is celebrated. When individuals feel safe expressing their ideas and perspectives, it encourages a rich tapestry of innovation and creativity. At BAND, we’re committed to championing this ethos and ensuring our team feels supported in voicing their initiatives and ideas.


6. The Italy Effect: Investing in Talent


Lesson: Patience in Talent Development Pays Off


Italy’s transformation from Six Nations perennial whipping boys to almost coming away with 4 wins from 5 matches underlines the power of visionary leadership and the importance of nurturing young talent. With Gonzalo Quesada at the helm, Italy have revamped their style of play and tapped into the potential of players emerging from a robust youth system.


For business, Italy’s story highlights the value of investing in budding talent and fostering a culture where new ideas and approaches can flourish. It underscores leaders’ need to be patient yet purposeful in guiding their teams towards excellence.


7. Fuel Desire, Appetite and Ambition


Lesson: Passion Powers Performance


Look at France. Their head coach, Fabien Galthié – the guy with the big glasses – describes his rugby philosophy as: “Players must be consumed by desire, appetite and ambition.” The results of this approach are clear to see: France can beat anyone on their day.


Galthié’s ethos offers a valuable blueprint for businesses, particularly those in the creative sector. Encouraging a work environment where passion is not just a buzzword but the bedrock of daily operations can transform the quality and innovation level of the output. When devoted to their work, team members are likelier to push boundaries and innovate. At BAND, we’re committed to supporting creative business owners to embody these principles and achieve their vision.


8. Evolve to Succeed


Lesson: Adaptability is Key to Leadership


Finally, England. Under Steve Borthwick, England have tried harnessing analytics to pinpoint team strengths and weaknesses. Borthwick used this approach to great effect in his previous role at the Leicester Tigers’ helm. However, it hadn’t initially been so effective on the international stage.


As a result, Borthwick has evolved his approach, combining data insights with a new defensive system under specialist coach Felix Jones and introducing a more dynamic style (reflecting the talent at his disposal). His decision to flex has produced better results and greater promise.


This underscores a crucial lesson for businesses: the power of data to inform decisions is undeniable, but its greatest value comes when coupled with the willingness to adapt strategies based on changing environments and needs.


Dressing Room Debrief


The parallels between international rugby and business are striking. The lessons from the Six Nations and Full Contact documentary transcend sport, offering valuable insights into leadership, team management and strategic thinking. Even better, linking the two fields of sport and business allows me to write about two things I love: rugby and my work. Despite his choice of eyewear, I agree with the philosophy of Fabien Galthié: life’s more fun when you’re “consumed by desire, appetite and ambition!”


For more insights and strategies tailored to elevate your business, connect with us at BAND. Let’s tackle your business challenges together and strategise for a winning future.

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Julian Davies

Julian Davies

Managing Partner at Redfin

Managing partner and Chartered Accountant with 30+ years of experience in marketing, media, and creative industries. He leads the Redfin team, offering expert advice on growth and profitability. Former owner manager of an agency acquired by a listed group; his industry insights are second to none. Off duty, you might find him on the golf or tennis court, determined to master new tricks.
Shelley Watkin

Shelley Watkin

Client Finance Director at Redfin

A qualified Chartered Accountant with 20+ years of experience in the marketing services sector. During her 5+ years at Redfin, she served as Client Finance Director offering invaluable insights into strategic and commercial matters. Shelley has also assumed the role of Finance Director for various creative agencies, guiding them through successful sales processes. If she gets free time after managing her children’s busy schedules, she likes to chill out doing yoga and gardening.