The moment has finally come: the Cheetahs will play in Super Rugby for the last time on Friday evening.
And for coach Franco Smith, it’s indeed a poignant moment.
“It is a special occasion for me,” the Springboks’ assistant coach admitted.
“It has been some journey. Various members of this side came through the ranks with me from our Varsity Cup days with the Shimlas.
“You develop a close bond with these men. You laugh and you cry together in the changeroom. It was great to see every player buying into our vision and developing, skills and conditioning wise. They worked really hard.”
It is understood Smith won’t be coaching the Cheetahs when they’re participation in Europe is confirmed.
Because the European schedule would clash with the Springboks’ Rugby Championhip campaigns, the 44-year-old mentor will be appointed as director of rugby at the union.
That would allow him the freedom to continue his influential role at the Springboks.
Current director of rugby, Rory Duncan, will take over as head coach.
“The table has been set. Rory has a great coaching team that will be able to assist him,” said Smith.
“I really hope the team reaches the next level in the future.”
He intimated his new role even further by mentioning how he’ll “miss” the players.
“There are negatives to this new chapter. There is going to be change,” said Smith.
“My role is going to change now. I’m not going to see the players on a daily basis anymore but I’ll contribute as much as I can still.”
With regards to Friday’s meeting with the Kings in Port Elizabeth, the Cheetahs want to keep things as normal as possible.
“The mood is great. There’s clarity and closure now for the players,” said Smith.
“That frees them up. We need to keep on concentrating what we want to do on the field.”