Franco Smith - Chee­tahs Su­per Rugby Coach

He is proof that good guys can fin­ish first

Fiji Sun - - Ajay Bhai Amrit - AJAY BHAI AMRIT The writer is a Fiji Sun colum­nist. Feed­back: ajay@carv­ing­dream.com

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. Lood de Jager South Africa’s Player of the year and Chee­tahs star player.

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