Swansong for Franco Smith

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Franco Smith will be in charge of the Toyota Cheetahs for one last time on Friday evening when they tackle Munster in round three of the Guinness PRO14. Hawies Fourie will take over the reins from next week. PHOTO: MORGAN PIEK

Friday night’s Guinness PRO14 clash between the Toyota Cheetahs and Munster in Bloemfontein will be the final one in charge for the current interim coach, Franco Smith.
Smith has been standing in as the coach of the Cheetahs for the past three games on behalf of Hawies Fourie.

Fourie had some medical issues earlier in the year, which prevented him from taking up the role at the end of the Currie Cup.

Smith will be heading to Italy at the end of the year where he will be taking over from Connor O’Shea as the Italian national coach. The former Springbok flyhalf and centre is no stranger to Italy as he played a lot of rugby in the country and also coached at Benetton Treviso. His one son was also born in Italy and actually qualifies to play rugby for the Azzurri.

While it still early days in the PRO14, the Cheetahs have done something which was unthinkable, and that was to beat the Glasgow Warriors and Ulster in their first two matches of the season, scoring sixteen tries in the process and amassing a staggering 111 points.

This places the Cheetahs at the top of the standings on Conference A, but as mentioned, it is still very early. There are still 19 matches remaining for the Cheetahs in the tournament before the play-offs.

On Friday the Cheetahs will target the scalp of Munster. As was the case with Glasgow and Ulster, the Cheetahs have never beaten Munster before and they remain the only team never to lose to the Free Staters. These three aforementioned teams all played in the semi-finals of the PRO14 last season, while Glasgow were the losing finalists.

A win on Friday evening will not only be massive for the Cheetahs, but it will indeed also be the perfect second to the coach that led them to two Currie Cup titles.

Smith told Bloemfontein Courant that not once did he doubt the commitment of his players during his tenure at the Cheetahs.

“You get close to the players. They don’t know how close you get to them but you do. We really became a family. The players always went on the field and gave their hearts to the team.

“As a coach I never had to doubt any of the player’s commitment to the team while I was at the Cheetahs. They have always measured themselves at a very high standard. As a coach that is a big thing. You always worry if they want to give it their all, or if they believe in the plan. I’m excited to say that in my six years at the Cheetahs that there was always 100% commitment even though we didn’t always get the results.

“Regardless of what happens on Friday, I can only thank the players for buying into what we asked from them. From August last year when we restarted building a group of players.

“Despite negative comments and people not believing in them, they kept their eye on the ball. ”

The Toyota Cheetahs and Munster lock horns at the Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein on Friday evening, and this match will kick-off at 18:15.