Cheetahs coach Franco Smith will sign off on a long six year spell with the side as his team look to continue their unbeaten record in PRO14 Rugby against Irish side Munster in Bloemfontein on Friday.
Smith, who won two Currie Cup titles and coaches the Cheetahs into the playoffs of their first PRO14 season, will sign off on a high if his side beat the unbeaten Munster side, as he hands over the coaching duties to Hawies Fourie from next week.
Smith stood in while Fourie recovered from an operation and will head to take up a coaching position as the new head coach of Italy.
Smith believes he leaves Cheetahs rugby in a better place than when he arrived and believes the Cheetahs are now a side that fans can believe in with their brand of entertaining rugby.
“For me it was always about good people are good players. If Rugby is that vehicle, that was the one that was dealt to me. Through experience and the way I can see the game, I could contribute over the last six years and create a platform,” he said.
“We wanted to play a good brand, a brand we can win with, that we could entertain with. Something that people in the town and the stands can associate with. We wanted to create role models, heroes in society. Everybody I worked with here were exceptional people.
“They always went out there and gave their hearts on the field. I’ve never doubted any of their commitment. They measure themselves on a very high standard, and as a coach that is the biggest thing. There was always 100 percent commitment week after week even though we didn’t get the results.
“Regardless of what happens in the game I can only thank them for buying into the game plan.”
In Munster Smith will come face to face with a coach he knows very well in South African Johan van Graan.
While Munster have 12 players at the World Cup, Smith believes they have already shown how dangerous they are.
“At the beginning of the season, they are a bit more disrupted than Ulster was and they have a bunch of new names. Knowing Johan very well, I know he is trying to blood a lot of players because he will need them during the in the Six Nations.
“I am sure he wants to see the depth of his squad and there are some unknown names in their side but I’m sure they are a very organised and well-coached team.
“We know each other well and he knows my philosophy. He was the attack coach before I was at the Springboks, so he will know how I think. It was very important to know where he will focus his attention. He knows our players very well.”
Cheetahs vs Munster
Kick-off: Friday 18:15
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Mike Adamson
Assistant referees: Griffin Colby, Paul Mente
TMO: Lourens van der Merwe
Southern Kings vs Ulster (Saturday 16:00)
In Port Elizabeth the Southern Kings will be looking to draw inspiration from the Cheetahs big win over Irish side Ulster last week when they meet on Saturday.
But for assistant coach Vuyo Zangqa the Kings need to find a way of converting the chances they create and become more clinical in their play.
“We’ve looked at all three teams we were to play in the opening games. When we looked at Cardiff, we knew we could beat them and we fell short. We knew Munster was going to be tough, but we were too slow to get out of the blocks.
“We are hoping that the Cheetahs win it will give our boys a little more confidence to know we can do it. We have analysed them and we know what they are going to bring. We need to make sure we are more clinical in this game,” he said.
Zangqa wants more focus and patience from his side in exploiting the attacking opportunities they present themselves.
“At the end of the day the Kings haven’t won a game yet. We don’t want to talk about last season, but we have seen some growth. For them they might not even see us as competition but we definitely know we have improved. We need to be more clinical. We were in the 22 zone four, five times and we didn’t convert.
“We are getting there, but why are we not scoring?
“It comes down to patience and focus from the players’ side. We need to up our focus and be more patient. We took that forward in training and are focused and hopefully we will get results this weekend.”
Still despite losses in the opening two games, Zangqa believes the team is still on the right track.
“We want to exploit the weaknesses we saw. They didn’t kick much against the Cheetahs and were under pressure at the time. We will try to play with more ball this week, we are happy with our defence – last week we only conceded four penalties.
“We are on the right track. We are excited to play again this weekend to learn a bit more.”
Southern Kings vs Ulster
Kick-off: Saturday 16:00
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Referee: Craig Evans (WRU, 6th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Ian Davies (WRU), Ben Crouse (SARU)
TMO: Johan Greeff