Franco Smith - Cheetahs Super Rugby Coach
In rugby there are so many unsung heroes. Today I will be writing about someone who has dedicated his life to serving his team, country and club in the capacity as player, trainer and head coach. Franco Smith was born in July 1972 in Lichtenburg South Africa with rugby running through his veins. From a young age he watched many friends and relatives excel in this sport, but all the time he was watching and perfecting his own game during those formative years. Smith went to the all rugby school of Hoerskool Sand du Plessis in Bloemfontein and quickly found his niche in the position of fly-half and also centre.
It was in the fly-half position that he made his senior debut for the Free State Province under-18 team in 1990. He continued to excel in both centre and fly-half positions as he moved up and played for the under-20 Free State team. He was also given the honour to captain the South African universities team. The one setback for Smith was his intense shyness off and on the pitch. Being in such a pivotal position on the field needed for him to lead the backs and the forwards in to battle against his adversaries. Smith would work on this part of the game and grew in confidence match by match as his form picked up and his club and province took notice of his nimble skills and excellent goal kicking.
This finally led to an opportunity to represent his beloved South Africa and donning the famous green jersey. Smith played nine test matches for South Africa. He made his debut on December 6, 1997 at the age of 25 against Scotland. His last test match was on August 7, 1999 at the age of 29 against the mighty All Blacks. Injury played havoc on his game and he was side-lined after receiving knee damage. This hampered Smith for the vast majority of his games and could never raise him again to the pinnacle of playing for his country. With his test career over Smith went to play in Wales, then back to South Africa and finally in Italy where he reluctantly called it a day in 2005 after a successful career. Little did Smith know that coaching was going to be his forte as he was first asked to become the backline coach for the Free State Cheetahs in 2006. After 18 months in that job, Smith returned to Italy to take over as head coach of former side Treviso. He took them to two National Championship titles in 2008–2009 and in 2009–2010, as well as one Coppa Italia in 2010, and one Italian Super cup in 2009.
After six years of incredible success Smith resigned as head coach in December 2013. On his return to South Africa he took up the Super Rugby franchise position as assistant coach for the Cheetahs. In 2015 Smith took control as head coach for both Free State Cheetahs and Cheetahs Rugby.
For Smith there is a fairy tale ending as the Cheetahs competed in the brutal 2015 Currie Cup competition, which pitted the best South African teams against each other.
It is the most prestigious of all the competitions and Smith took the Free State Cheetahs outfit and not only won the championship, but also incredibly won it without a single defeat in any of the games, winning the title outright. This gentleman of the game and quiet and unassuming coach once again proved that good guys can also finish first. Edited by Naisa Koroi
Ajay Bhai Amrit interviews Super Rugby Cheetahs coach Franco Smith. Right: Lood de Jager South Africa’s Player of the year and Cheetahs star player.