CAPE TOWN – He had a tough decision to make: the red-hot, but uncertain cauldron of Springbok rugby, or the hard, but less intense job of guiding the Cheetahs.
Franco Smith opted for the latter on Thursday, opting for the home comforts of Bloemfontein rather than the up-and-down commute to Cape Town and little time with his family.
It is an understandable decision at this stage of Smith’s personal life and coaching career.
Smith is aged 45, and his wife Tania and three children have put their roots down in Bloemfontein after an initial three years as a player in Treviso and then later as a coach for six.
After coaching Shimlas to Varsity Cup success in 2015, he moved up to being an assistant coach and then head coach at the Cheetahs a year later.
He was asked to join the Springbok end-of-year tour in 2016, and has been the backline coach since, despite remaining the director of rugby at the Cheetahs.
New national director of rugby Rassie Erasmus is believed to have asked Smith to choose between the two, with the Cheetahs saying in a statement on Thursday that the former Bok flyhalf and centre decided “not to accept an offer to remain on the Springbok coaching staff”.
“Franco Smith has decided to return fulltime to the Cheetahs and not to accept an offer to remain on the Springbok coaching staff. He will be staying on as director of rugby and head coach of the Cheetahs for the next two seasons,” the statement read.
“Smith will be replacing Rory Duncan, who will be leaving for Worcester Warriors after the 2017/2018 PRO14 campaign.”
With Smith out of the way, Matthew Proudfoot is the only remaining member of the Allister Coetzee-era Springbok coaching staff still in place – at the moment.
Scrum coach Pieter de Villiers has been working with Erasmus as part of SA Rugby’s “Rugby Department”, along with Mzwandile Stick.
So, it wouldn’t be a surprise if De Villiers takes over on a permanent basis if Proudfoot leaves, with Stick returning to the Boks in place of Smith.
Jacques Nienaber has returned from Munster in Ireland with Erasmus, and is a renowned defence coach, so Brendan Venter is unlikely to be called upon as a consultant either.
Following Coetzee’s exit, SA Rugby said that they hoped to confirm the Springbok management later this month.