Franco Smith, coach of the Cheetahs, will guide his team in the Currie Cup final this weekend before he moves to Italy to take up a new coaching challenge. Steve Haag Sports
 An emotional Franco Smith has spoken about the privilege of being able to lead his Cheetahs team in another Currie Cup final before saying goodbye and taking up a position in Italy.

Smith, who has also worked with the Springboks, will return to Italy at the end of this year to become that country’s national team head coach. Smith previously played and worked in Italy, for Bologna and Treviso.

He will lead his team for one last time in the Currie Cup final against the Lions in his home town of Bloemfontein on Saturday.

“What a privilege it is to be going out in the final week of the Currie Cup,” said Smith this week. “I have so much to be thankful for. The players here deserve to win it on Saturday; they have brought the pride back into Cheetahs rugby and worked so hard.

“It has always been more than just rugby for me. What we have done here is develop a great group of men; that’s always been the most important thing. It’s not what you coach on the field that matters so much, but what a player takes away to use off the field.”

Smith said it would be nice if the players could add “another brick to the wall” by winning on Saturday.

“It’s exciting that we’re here in this position, playing in a final. It’s the reward for the hard work that’s been put in and now we can go out there and exhibit our brand of rugby. There’s a good vibe in the team, lots of excitement and, importantly, this team can move forward to the Pro14 with confidence.”

The Cheetahs are chasing a sixth Currie Cup title this weekend, having last won it in 2016. After this weekend’s match they will have three weeks to get ready for the Pro 14 competition, which kicks off for them on September 27 against former champions Glasgow Warriors in Bloemfontein.

Smith said it would be important for his players to not focus too much on the Lions as the Cheetahs were basically playing against themselves.

“We’re not really playing against the Lions (on Saturday), but against ourselves. For us this is another match where we can gel and mature and be the best we can be. It’s a final and it’s important but we also have a whole Pro 14 ahead of us.”

The Cheetahs have made a habit of falling behind to teams in recent weeks just to come back strongly in the second half and win - something they did in their last two games, against Western Province and in the semi-final against the Sharks. Smith said he wasn’t concerned about going behind.

“Is it not the last minutes in a match that matter?” asked Smith. “A game is then made up of two halves, and both have to be played. It’s about the whole 80-minute effort. We don’t choose to go behind, but if we do, as has happened recently, it’s not the end of the world. But sure, we’re all chasing a complete 80-minute performance.”

Saturday’s match kicks off at 5pm.


The Star

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