15 Project leadership lessons from SA's pursuit towards the Rugby World Cup 2019

Posted on September 28, 2023

IPMA CASE STUDY SERIES

“Zero to Hero” 15 Project leadership lessons from South Africa’s pursuit towards the Rugby World Cup 2019, Giel Bekker & Inga Minelgaité

Publisher and owner of the IPMA Case Study - © International Project Management Association (IPMA®)

Sport is universal, however, different sport codes allow nations to compete in team and individual formats. Major events, such as World Cups and Olympic Games, require focused approaches with the end goal of being victorious clearly defined. The initiation, planning, preparation, and participation in major tournaments contains all the elements of project management and provides a excellent opportunity to demonstrate the practicing of this management discipline in an entertainment field. The rise of the South African Rugby Team from despair to victory is a classic example of how project leadership, through a coach, can be instrumental in motivating people to achieve excellence.

The Webb Ellis Cup, only 38 cm tall, 4.5 kg of sterling silver and 24 carat gold plating, is the most sought-after trophy  in the world of rugby.

In October 2016, just 36 months before the 2019 World Cup and the South African rugby team, also known as the Springboks, lost 57-15 to the All Blacks. September 2017 saw them losing by a record 57-0 score to the same team. During November 2016, they lost, for the first time in history, to low-ranking Italy and after a 38-3 loss to Ireland, they dropped to an all-time low world ranking of 7th. The main sponsor withdrew. The South African rugby fraternity wanted action. The Rugby Board decided to get the talented coach onboard as soon as possible. The call went to local boy and ex-Springbok player, Johan (Rassie) Erasmus. At the time, Rassie and his family lived in Ireland, where he plied his coaching trade as Director of Rugby after becoming disillusioned by the way South African rugby was administered and coached. After receiving the call, Rassie consulted with his long-time friend and assistant coach, Jacques Nienaber, his family, and friends about the call to move back to South Africa and take-up the daunting task of coaching the Springboks under a cloud of supporter and political animosity.  The loss to Ireland, which he and his family attended as spectators in their Springbok supporter gear, and experiencing the collective disappointment with fellow South Africans, was the final straw. He made it clear that he knew what had to be done to win the World Cup but had to be sure he had all the necessary support.

Lesson 1: Choose the most competent project manager, especially when the project is in trouble.

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