Free State Cheetahs coach Franco Smith says he is proud about what he has been able to achieve with the team ahead of the Currie Cup final on Saturday.
The final against the Lions in Bloemfontein will be Smith’s last match as head coach of the union as he will take up the role of Italy national coach next year.
Speaking to the media in Bloemfontein, Smith gave credit to the players and backroom staff for helping the team get this far.
‘It was not just me,’ Smith said. ‘I want to firstly give honour to the Lord. And then to the players and coaching staff and management that worked well with me. It is really a privilege to be going out on a final week. I am grateful. Hopefully there is not too much pressure around winning it. We just need to go out there and be the best we can be. That will be our focus.
‘As has been said, I will be around. I am not jumping the ship straight away. It is just a last game and we will handle it like that. ‘
A former Free State player, Smith began his coaching career as an assistant with the Cheetahs in 2005.
After helping the team to a Currie Cup title in 2016, Smith took up a role as an assistant with the Springboks. However, after the Cheetahs suffered an exodus that included losing Rory Duncan to the Worcester Warriors, Smith stepped up as Cheetahs head coach and has since brought stability to the union.
An emotional Smith said that he was proud to see how his team has grown off the field.
‘We have developed a great group of men. That stays the important part for me. I don’t mind about what I can teach them on the field, it is what they take away off the field that counts most. We uncoached a lot of old habits and we had the opportunity to instil some things that worked well for the Free State and this environment we play in. Although we are not the complete product, we have come a long way.
‘There is plenty for me to be proud about and to be thankful for. The heavenly Father gives everyone a talent and a vehicle for that talent. If rugby is my vehicle then I am thankful that it has worked out.’
Smith added that the Cheetahs are excited to be able to once again host a final and are hoping for the stadium to be sold out on Saturday.
‘Everybody knows to work hard and to get into this position is a privilege and a reward. We are excited to go and exhibit. It sounds like the tickets are selling well. It was one of our missions to fill this stadium again. So, we are excited about exhibiting our brand. There is a really good vibe which is important. These kinds of games are a main ingredient going into the Pro14, so we know what it is about and what success will bring. So I have an excited bunch of players to work with.’
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