A Springbok Leader - What the 2023 World Cup and 'Chasing the sun 2' taught me about leadership

Suresh Naidoo
Chief Executive Officer
May 27, 2024
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Watching the 'Chasing the Sun 2' series, I relived all the drama and emotion of the incredible 2023 Rugby World Cup performance.  

Of course, South Africa has already won.  

But the emotion I felt on match day came rushing back whilst watching the series. I did not just love the rugby aspect. I found inspirational leadership lessons from Coach Rassie Erasmus and team.  

Here’s what stood out for me:

Playing in line with your DNA

When the Bok team analyzed New Zealand's All-Blacks possible game plan before the game, an analysis of their “DNA” was done. As we all know they love broken play and love to run.  

By comparison, Springboks play the power game and like to dominate up front.

As a leader, you can learn from South Africa's best sportsmen (Photo: Supersport)

As a leader, it’s important to understand what is your ‘team DNA’.  

What are you good at? What are your differentiating traits?  

If you are a company that prides itself on speed of delivery and quick turnaround times, then play to that strength.  

Your competitors have other strengths so let them play to theirs. If you have analyzed your strengths and bought it into your strategy, you will win.

Writing your own script

Coach Jaque Nienaber’s emotional intervention imploring his team to write their own script is very telling. When all the odds appear to be stacked against you, change the script. Move the goalposts.  

Write your own script.  

This has been the driving force behind innovation in all walks of life from sport to business.

Brutally honest communication

When the teams lost to Ireland in the pool stages, Rassie was straight to the point: “Siya is not the biggest thing in South Africa…. South Africa is the biggest thing in South Africa”.

The team made promises it did not keep. When your team doesn’t meet its deadlines, then it is time to put the politeness in the cupboard. But I don’t think you could get away with Rassie's language in a business today. You will land at the CCMA.

This doesn’t mean that straightforward and honest communication is not allowed. Letting your team know where they erred is important for improvement.

The 2023 Rugby World Cup changed SA's idea of effective leadership, says Director Suresh Naidoo (Photo: Thomas Serer)

Analyze your risk, Get buy in from all

The leadership team in the week leading up to the World Cup final had to make a key decision on the split on the bench.  

It came down to either a 7/1 or 6/2 split between the forwards and the backs. Rassie fully engaged his management team on the split. He favored a 7/1 split, but he sought the input of his team.  

They analyzed every possible risk.  

Finally, when they needed to decide, they went for the 7/1 split.

They looked at all the angles possible before deciding.

There was full analysis and full consultation. They even called Cheslin Kolbe to the meeting to ascertain whether he was willing to play scrumhalf should there be an emergency. A consultation with all those concerned is key to getting buy in, and the team moving in the same direction.


It is important that the management team can move from senior position to senior position when required. Understanding the culture of the company and the way plans are executed is a very important skill. In certain instances, this trumps specialist skills.

Deon Fourie was brought in as an openside flanker, and when Malcolm Marx was injured, flyhalf Handre Pollard was brought as the replacement, as the team had a greater need for Pollard.  

Deon had to be the backup hooker, a position he had not played in for many seasons. In the final, he had to play 77 minutes as a hooker. He acquitted himself brilliantly.  

There were many more lessons for business leaders to take out of Chasing the Sun 2. Knowing the business and how it works is of critical importance. Deon knew the plays and tactics of the team which allowed for his brilliant performance.

I’m waiting for Chasing the Sun 3.


The language used by Rassie is not acceptable to use in business. Consult your HR executive for more acceptable language to be used. What a series this was! Easily, the best sports documentary I have seen.  

Well, done SuperSport on this brilliant production.