AS the clock ticked past the 6pm mark on Monday evening, over 20 members of the Glasgow Warriors squad were still out on the pitch at Scotstoun working hard. This wasn’t low-key skills stuff either, but focussed match-play situations followed by sprints. The day had started 11 hours earlier, but Franco Smith wasn’t going to call a halt to proceedings until he was satisfied that absolutely everything he set to achieve that day had been covered.
“It is the way I usually work – it is a pity Scotstoun only opens at 7am,” the new head coach quipped, after finally calling time on the session. “We need to regroup and the one thing I promised them is that not everyone might get a chance to play but I’ll put my heart into bettering them so they can become the best they can be.
“So, we will be in with the medical staff and the ‘return-to-play’ guys at seven o’clock. And the fat-burners or ‘cheese-puff squad’ as I like to call them need to get a bit of cycling done, so if they can manage that before breakfast then they are upping their metabolism and burning some fat. So, yeah, we need the guys in early.”
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Smith was appointed head coach at Warriors at the start of August, filling the gap created when Danny Wilson was moved on two months earlier following a disastrous end to the 2021-22 campaign, which reached a humiliating nadir with a 76-14 drubbing by Leinster in Dublin. The South African has inherited a playing and coaching staff entirely put together by his predecessor but insists that he has been impressed by the raw materials at his disposal.
“I think the group of coaches who started pre-season did an excellent job with the first group of non-international players,” he said. “The second group was the international players coming back in and all of the staff who were here have done an exceptional job to put the baseline out for these guys’ fitness.
“We have a good bunch of people out there who are getting to know each other and learning how we can back-up each others’ strengths. So, for now, we’ll work with what we’ve got and adapt. I think this is a young coaching group which has a lot of potential.
“I’m sure it [recruiting new players] is open for discussion, but these guys are here so we’ve got to build a trusting relationship and give them the best opportunity to play,” he added.
“The way I’ve coached and the way I’ve worked with people, I’ve always got the best out of them. They’ve got an opportunity now to show what they can do, and I first want to see which direction we are going with them, and also to give them a little bit of confidence.
“I have confidence in what I‘ve seen. They will have to improve a lot in certain aspects, but I am happy to see that the effort and hard work that they’ve all put in can develop those areas of the game that they need to improve on.”
Smith has not discussed that Leinster debacle with the squad but expects that it will be a motivating factor for the players involved when they have their first pre-season hit-out against Worcester in Inverness on Friday night.
“There was enough said by the coaching staff and players at the time, and I could clearly see that it had really hurt, so we don’t want that extra baggage,” he reasoned.
“But we can use it as motivation, yes, and I’ve also asked the players not to lose that motivation after one good training session or one good game. We must keep that wrath all year.
“That’s going to be our challenge as a club and as a group of players, to maintain that willing and want which was created through disappointment.”
Smith is a former stand-off/centre who was capped nine times by the Springboks between his debut off the bench in the 68-10 hammering of Scotland at Murrayfield in December 1997 and his last cap against New Zealand in August 1999.
He has extensive coaching experience in his native South Africa and in Italy, where he was most recently director of high performance for the union. He felt he was making important progress in that job but couldn’t resist the opportunity to roll up his sleeves again as a hands-on coach when Glasgow came calling.
“I like being on the field,” he explained. “What is in my benefit now is I can be baggage master, I can be assistant coach, I can be a director of a club, with the experience I have gained.
“At 50 years old, I think that’s a lot of experience, but I missed being on the field, I missed influencing players’ lives. Good people make good players, and I like to work with the person, I like to see how they believe and get better, sign bigger contracts and become internationals. It gives me a lot of pleasure.”
“My track record is that I started with one international, basically, at Benetton and ended up with 25. The Cheetahs had nothing when I coached them and then we had Joseph Dwebe, Ox Nché, Jasper Wiese and four or five other guys coming through [to the Springboks], and another 13 guys playing outside of South Africa which means we have created job opportunities for them in big environments – so that gives me even more pleasure than just directing.
“So, I will go back if needs be to directing one day, but I honestly love being out there on the training pitch tackling the tactical challenge. I’m looking forward to it.”
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