Franco Smith will officially hand over control of the high-flying Cheetahs to Hawies Fourie as he departs the franchise to join Italy at the end of November.
Smith was supposed to have left after the Currie Cup, but a medical condition delayed Fourie’s arrival in Bloemfontein until a week ago and the Varsity Cup-winning coach will enjoy a quiet start with no games planned for this weekend.
However, Fourie will face some stiff opposition as the Cheetahs then leave for a batch of three away games against Irish side Connacht and the Welsh duo of Llanelli Scarletts and Cardiff Blues over the next month as he looks to continue the unbeaten start under Smith.
Smith’s tenure at the Cheetahs included a Varsity Cup title, two Currie Cup titles and reaching the playoff rounds of PRO14 Rugby in his first year in the competition. He will now return to Italy where he ended his playing career for Benetton to take over the coaching role for the upcoming Six Nations championship.
After claiming their third win in a row to top their conference, Smith said he was thankful for the opportunity to take the team a step further, but would be happy to hand over the side to Fourie.
‘It’s Hawies’ team now, and compliments must go to the coaching staff and players for believing in what we set out to do. If they didn’t buy into the vision then we wouldn’t be where we are. I’m really grateful for the hard work they put in.
‘With their ability to adapt, they are growing as individuals. That is what this team needs, to keep growing to get better, especially away from home. Tonight this was good, because it might happen again when the intensity is down and how we are going to get out of it. I’m sure it will happen again, so it is a good opportunity to discuss how we will get out of it.’
Smith said while he was leaving Bloemfontein, where he grew up and made his name as a player and coach, he was thankful for the way he was embraced by the locals.
‘I’ve made a lot of friends in the time here. I am a Bloemfonteiner but I have been away for a long time and was overseas for a long time. And the people of the town embraced myself and my family and for that I will always be grateful. I am thankful for the public and everyone who embraced us. It will always be with me.
‘As I said in the change room, if you promise something and you can deliver, then there is satisfaction. I think we didn’t work with household names when we started and now they are household names. I’m very proud of the players that have come through and that will stick with me.’
Smith said while he expected Fourie to bring in a few new ideas, he wished his successor all the best and would be available if Fourie ever needed any help.
‘Hawies and I did speak and I’m a sounding board now. I will help wherever I can. He did a lot of effort to be with the team and not impose himself and understand what we are doing. I’m there for him and want to help. I’m here to the end of November. If he asks me to help, of course I’m here to help,’ he added.
Under Smith the Cheetahs have been exceptional this season, scoring 22 tries in three games and conceding only seven for a positive points’ differential of 95, the most of any side in PRO14 Rugby.