Franco Smith – A Coach Made For The United Rugby Championship


There are few people better equipped to operate amid the multi-faceted diversity of the BKT United Rugby Championship than Franco Smith.

Here’s a man who played and coached in his homeland of South Africa, did the same in Italy, had a spell in Wales as Newport’s fly-half and is now at the helm of Glasgow. That leaves just Ireland unticked from the league’s competing countries and he has faced opposition from there plenty of times.

“I can add to that,” he responds when presented with this URC-friendly CV. “I coached in the Magners League, then in the Rabo Direct, then it became PRO12, then I coached in the PRO14, so I have walked the road with the United Rugby Championship, as it stands now, from around 2008 when I was out in Treviso.”

That journey continued this past Sunday when the Glasgow team will face reigning champions the DHL Stormers, who are over from Cape Town.

“It’s an exceptional league to be a part of,” said the 50-year-old former Springbok, who has headed for Scotland following a stint in charge of the Azzurri.

“There are new challenges which the South African teams have brought to it, with the grunt they have brought to the competition. That has made a big difference.

“Leinster, Munster and Ulster are still performing really well and because I was part of the Italian set-up, I know how much money is being spent and how much effort they are putting into improving their two sides’ quality.

“Now that I am involved here in Scotland, I can see the SRU are really doing everything to maintain the quality and competitiveness of both teams. As for the Welsh sides, they are always competitive and it’s good to see Cardiff high up on the board.

“There’s an important blend in this league, with different styles and different approaches. Every team has something that’s unique. There is a real across-the-board challenge.

“The quality of the competition has improved a lot since I was first involved in it more than a decade ago. The number of passes made per game, the ruck speed are up, the standard of the set-piece is really impressive. So I can see the growth and it’s an exceptional competition to be a part of.”

Raised in Bloemfontein, Smith first made his name there as a player with Orange Free State - the precursor to the Cheetahs - going on to star for the Blue Bulls in Pretoria and winning nine caps for South Africa at fly-half and centre during the late 1990s, ahead of stints with Newport, Bologna and Treviso.

It was with the Cheetahs and Treviso - now Benetton Rugby - that he moved into coaching, having long spells at both teams, while also working with the Springboks as a consultant, before taking charge of the Italian national team in 2019. After two seasons at the helm of the Azzurri, he became the country’s Head of High Performance and now his rugby ride has brought him to Glasgow.

So the sport has been a huge part of his life for more than 30 years.

“I see rugby as an opportunity to influence people’s lives,” he says.

“If it was just a case of talking strategy and tactics, I think I would lose interest, but this is a sport with different personalities, characters and traits, different countries, and different cultures, so it keeps one intrigued.

“You also want to be the best you can be and I haven’t tired of that, so I have looked to accumulate as much experience as possible, both at club and international level. It is all lessons learned and you never stop learning in this job.

“Life, love, learn is one of my rules. I keep on learning every day. There are many ways to look at things and also the game evolves.

“You learn off other people, through trends you adapt your coaching style and obviously human beings are interesting things, so you keep on learning how to manage them.”

Things are going pretty well for Smith in his first season with Glasgow. They have won their last five games in all competitions, including the recent 1872 Cup double over Edinburgh, and they are up to sixth in the Vodacom URC table.

“I try not to use the word ‘satisfied’ because that feels like you have reached the end of the growing period,” he said.

“We still want to improve a lot and we have to do that to compare ourselves with the likes of Leinster, Ulster and the DHL Stormers.

“But we are definitely on the right track. The players and the coaching group have bought into the plan and really worked hard at it. There is no limit in the potential in this group if they keep on doing that.”