Franco Smith confirmed as Glasgow’s new head coach

Franco Smith
Franco Smith will move to Glasgow from Italy, where he has been the FIR's head of high performance. Image: Glasgow Warriors.

NEARLY two months after parting company with Danny Wilson, Glasgow have confirmed that Franco Smith will be his successor as head coach. The South African, who turned 50 last week, will fly into Scotland in the next day or two and then move permanently at the end of the month after tying up the remaining loose ends in his present post as Italian Rugby’s head of high performance.

Smith, who had been the clear front-runner for some time, will work with the existing coaching team at Scotstoun: assistants Nigel Carolan, Pete Murchie, Al Dickinson and Pete Horne. He has agreed a two-year contract.

“I have followed Glasgow for a long time, since coaching at Benetton when they joined the PRO12 in 2010, and the way they play has always appealed to me because their style is embraced by the fans,” he said on the Warriors website.

“In coaching I always have these objectives: to play a winning brand of rugby; to have a style that is good to watch and that the fans can associate with – it is the Warrior Nation’s team, and our responsibility through the coaches and players is to represent them.

“There are also opportunities at Glasgow to contribute to the pathway for up-and-coming players, making sure we are developing creative, fit, and knowledgeable rugby players from a young age that we will bring all the way through to Scotland.

“I am looking forward to joining the club and getting to know the coaching staff and players as we begin working together.”

Born in Lichtenburg in South Africa’s North-West Province, Smith, who could play at centre or stand-off, turned out for the Free State Cheetahs, the Griquas and the Blue Bulls in his homeland before heading to Newport for a season. His introduction to Italian rugby came in 2002 when he joined Benetton and stayed with the club for four seasons.

He hung up his boots in 2006 after a career which saw him win nine Springboks caps, with his debut having come in the 68-10 win over Scotland at Murrayfield in 1997. His first coaching job was as an assistant with the Cheetahs, and he then became Benetton’s head coach, staying for six years.

After a lengthy spell back in South Africa, Smith returned to Italy in 2019 as head coach, initially on an interim basis. He was in charge during two Six Nations campaigns in which the Azzurri failed to win a game, then last year moved upstairs to become head of high performance.

Warriors chief executive Al Kellock said: “We are delighted to be signing a head coach with Franco’s club and international experience to lead our squad in the coming seasons. After an extensive search it was Franco’s depth of knowledge in the game and his experiences at professional club and international levels that stood out. Thank you to the Italian Rugby Federation for their willingness to make this appointment possible.

“I know Franco will bring an exciting identity to our game based on high tempo and hard work, and he will bring the best out of the talented group of players we have at Scotstoun. Franco is also known for developing players from a young age, and with five recent graduates from the FOSROC Academy and a number close behind growing these players remains a key focus for the club.”

Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson, added: “I would like to join Al in welcoming Franco to Scotland and Glasgow Warriors.

“Throughout our recruitment process Franco stood out as a strong technical coach who wants to play positive rugby, which fits with the DNA of Glasgow Warriors and how we want to develop our squad, especially the exciting group of younger players, at Scotstoun.

“Across the game people we consulted spoke very highly of Franco as a coach and a person and we look forward to him taking Glasgow Warriors forward in the coming seasons.”

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About Stuart Bathgate 1131 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

35 Comments

  1. Good that it’s settled and now the hard work begins.
    I hope the coming season raises the spirits of the team and its followers.

  2. Extremely positive to see SRUWarriors appoint from outith the bubble someone who can coach and select without fear or favour. Good luck.

  3. Give the man a chance. He’s not even in the country yet and the knifes are out. The choice has been made and so get behind him if you’re a Glasgow fan. I fear the bigger problem for Glasgow is the depth and quality of their squad. Smith is not going to fix this overnight but if he can improve their defence and kick off receipts then that will be a good start. But be realistic with what Glasgow can achieve.

  4. I think Smith is being judged a little unfairly over his time in Italy. Conor O’Shea led Italy for the three years into the 2019 RWC without winning a single 6N game. Smith was first appointed as Interim Head Coach just two months before the following 6N and had to undertake a huge squad overhaul. Really I think he was on a hiding to nothing but set the squad in the right direction. Crowley has done well to win in Cardiff but also lost a milestone match to Georgia. Let’s face it coaching Italy is a hideously tough gig.

    Perhaps coaching Glasgow is his shot at the big(ger) time. More competitive squad but still unfancied with lots of potential for improvement. If he does well with Glasgow he’ll earn a ticket to much higher status roles. That’s good – hopefully we have an ambitious, innovative coach, with a callow but talented squad. Let’s hope it works out for both parties.

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  5. Give him time to prove his worth.

    “Jeddart justice” in many comments – hang him first, then hold the trial…..

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  6. Good work by Mark Dodson bringing in Franco Smith,I am very confident that this is a shrewd appointment. The work he has done in Italy has meant that they have a better foundation to build on, as we have found to our cost at U20 level.

    I think he can certainly make the Warriors competitive again and as Matt Vallance alludes to, bring some good old fashioned grit and determination, and stiffen up what has often been a soft underbelly.

    Time will tell how this goes but let’s give Franco a chance.

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    • From speaking to SA rugby followers he is rated over there. We have just secured a coach who was in charge of a tier 1 rugby nation. Time will tell, the SRU is investing in our 2 pro teams.

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      • It would be difficult to disagree with ‘time will tell’ but his Tier 1 management was hardly Stellar nor extensive before a move upstairs that probably had more to do with contractual matters than anything else.
        As regards SRU investment, it can’t always be claimed that their investment choices have been of the best.
        The comments reflect not so much against the individual but more as to the selection process, who else was available and whether there were more cost effective investment as ‘home grown’ candidates that had shown [according to some] sufficient ability to be considered against the final choice candidate who doesn’t appear to have benefitted Benetton or the Italian National team to any significant degree.
        It is reasonable to indicate an average record at best and evidence of the Italian Federation loosing faith in their original choice. To go from Tier 1 to a Club environment can only be seen as a retrograde step [even if it was a top French or English side] let’s hope he is the success as you suggest your SA friends have indicated and that it isn’t a retrograde step for Warriors or the SRU, but as you say, time will tell.

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  7. Yes Dempsey and Darge were brought to the club and were both excellent, however he nearly broke both of them physically through bad management. Darge played on obviously injured in his last game and Dempsey played the latter part of the season constantly with injuries. Others were drained at the end of the season due to no rotation of players culminating in an embarrassing last game.

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  8. I suspect that the list of applicants will have been very limited given the performance levels and collapses at the end of last season – so in some ways I’m pleasantly surprised by the appointment – change in attitude and what is deemed as acceptable are prerequisites in first few weeks to give them something to build from. #zeropassengers

  9. Like a lot of posters, I was surprised to see this appointment although that was mainly because there seemed to have been no rumours about it. He does have a good bit of experience so deserves some slack – and time.

    For those who are wanting someone much higher profile and with an outstanding track record, we need to be realistic and say the head coach at Glasgow is maybe not even in the top 50 head coach roles when you consider the 6N, 4N, the English premiership, the Top 14, the Irish provinces etc etc just to name a few. I’m not sure the proverbial shitty stick was needed to repel world cup winning coaches from Glasgow’s door

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  10. Well, not exactly the big name everyone wanted. Have the SRU gone cheap again? There is money there but it rarely gets below the top of the pyramid. Time will tell. There are good players at GW and he is following the worst man manager they have had. DW only looked towards the next match and not the future to the detriment of all he coached. Time will tell but I will hold off with my season ticket. No more money for the fat cats yet.

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    • Sorry Rugby Fan i can’t agree with your comments regarding Danny Wilson. I had been highly critical throughout Danny’s tenure and rightly so in my opinion, however the one thing he did was improve the squad given financial constraints and Covid lockdowns. Lots of young exciting backs and the likes of Rory Darge and Jack Dempsey were brought to the club and or given a chance. Unfortunately Danny was responsible for everything that happened on the field of play as well as the brining on of young talent. Hopefully we will benefit from this legacy going forward.

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  11. It’s very difficult not to agree with many of the comments below being skeptical regarding the appointment especially as the first thought I had was, what did he ever do at Benetton.
    An additional thought was, well Italian rugby has come along recently from to be honest a somewhat mediocre base but what aspect of the improvement qualifies him for head coach if his input was High performance Coach, fitness rather than skills and tactical ability? Or have I got that wrong?
    I would have thought the primary requirement would be skills and how to assess tactics applicable for certain fixtures/opponents and a proven track record. It always helps when the coach can say I’ve been there and done it as it were, I can think of plenty coaches that had a handful of International caps but were ineffectual coaches at Senior level.
    My final thought was regarding the take up of interest for the Post at Warriors, what was the quality of applicants that applied and what particularly suggested that Franco Smith was the outstanding applicant.
    I had forgotten his stint with Italy before he was ‘moved upstairs’ another version of ‘Not Wanted on Voyage’ it rather seems as if it’s an appointment that suggests a retrograde step for both parties.

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  12. This is where the likes of Rob Robertson stating Lancaster was favourite candidate helps no one. Was never going to happen and just contributes to unfair pre judgement of a coach not even in country yet. That and people creating unrealistic scenarios of getting someone like Grant on a ‘ trial basis’for a year. Distracts from opportunities And positives like a pack with 3 new academy graduates and 2 new players he’s coached before.

  13. Not the worst signing for Glasgow. At least he has experience of working with a low budget!
    However, not arriving until the end of August will mean he has little time to influence the style of play or to imprint his values onto the squad.

  14. I actually think Danny Wilson did alright with the resources at his disposal last year. I’ll be surprised if Franco manages to equal or better that 8th place finish by Glasgow. They will play attractive rugby under him though.

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    • I think it was the manner of Glasgow’s collapse towards the end of the season that made his position untenable. They looked a shambles, lacking in motivation and lacking any sense of game-smarts. The second half disintegrations showed a team who’d lost their heads.

      Smith is far from the best coach in the world but he has a reputation for being smart and innovative. He’ll be coaching the most competitive squad he’s had his hands on so he could surprise us.

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  15. Oh dear how the mighty have fallen. The SRU took a risk with Blair at Edinburgh and it seems to be working. This guy has won nothing indeed both Benneton and Italy improved after he left. Glasgow need either a tough no nonsense coach with a proven track record or to take a Blair like risk with a younger coach. This guy is neither – why oh why did I renew my season tickets?

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  16. Not the worst of appointments, given elite coach availability due to the World Cup cycle, and Glasgow’s diminished status as a team.
    Surprised Smith has signed only a 2 year contract. The SRU were not in a strong bargaining position.
    While Danny Wilson was the designated scapegoat for last year’s performances, he carried the can for the failings of others at Glasgow; coaches, strength & conditioning, medical, analysis, operations, marketing & ticketing, communications & hospitality and managing director, not to mention players. The vast majority of these are still at Scotstoun and Smith will be set up to fail unless he has been given the authority Cockerill was given the slash & burn the dead would when he joined Edinburgh in 2017.

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  17. Looks to be at best a sideways move in terms of coaching calibre, (which probably cost over the odds to release from Italian RFU contract)….far from ideal but given the timing of the search not entirely a surprise. Hopefully he surprises us all.

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  18. What a disgusting signing (the intent of the signing not the individual)

    No ambition = no results. Take £500,000 out of Mark Dodsons BIG FAT BONUS and we could have hired a coaching team that could have brought Glasgow back from the brink.

    He has to go!

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  19. What an absolute shambles of an appointment. Glasgow have had all summer to appoint a decent head coach and they’ve ended up with this joker. His track record is appalling in the seven or so years as a head coach what has he won?

    He’s won a title for a SA university in 2015. Kept the Cheetahs bouncing along the bottom of Super rugby conceding more points than almost anyone else. Then became Italian head coach not winning a single game or beating a single tier 1 nation. To be rewarded by being promoted to Head of High Performance of Italian rugby.

    That CV would be laughed out the door of any English Premiership, Top 14, Super Rugby and United Rugby Championship team other than Scotland.

    Glasgow are currently in real danger of free fall, serious investment in an underweight forward pack is needed with a coaching team that can get the best out of these players.

    As a Glasgow season ticket holder this is going to be one long season.

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  20. I think this is a reasonably positive appointment. Maybe not the calibre people have been dreaming about but Glasgow aren’t the club that attracted Dave Rennie anymore.

    Smith has generally coached teams that are strugglers, so I think this gig is an opportunity to apply his experience to a team that has potential to upset the established league leaders, even if we start from a relatively lowly point. He seems to have a good reputation so hopefully he’ll gel with Glasgow and his ambition will match the club’s and their fans.

    It’ll be interesting to see what he does with the young guys especially.

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  21. As stated in the Scotsman yesterday Franco will be seen as an underwhelming choice by many. I’m split between screaming that we have been duped again by getting the ex Benetton coach, before they were any good, and wanting to give him a fair crack given the what good fit for the Warriors he will be if you listen to Kellock and Dodson.
    We were here two years ago with another underwhelming choice and it didn’t work out great. l could see the merit in giving Roddy Grant a chance on a rolling contract, if things went well we have found another gem like Mike Blair, if things went badly it couldn’t get much worse and more coaches will be available after the World Cup cycle.
    As it is we are where we are and I hope Franco comes in, lifts what is a good squad, lifts the fans and lifts Scotstoun out of the doldrums it has been in of late.
    I and many others put our trust Al Kellock after he asked for it at the meeting with fans a few weeks ago and renewed season tickets this year, there will however be no second chances if Franco Smith is not the answer.

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    • Why would Roddy Grant give up working with a team that can challenge for the league and in Europe, for a one-year contract with a team currently looking like a basket case?

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      • If he is ambitious to be a full fat head coach of a Scottish Pro 14 outfit festooned with internationals and a sprinkling of British Lions. If he is ambitious he would back himself to improve enough on Danny Wilson’s tenure to retain the gig going forward, he is also bright enough to understand that the SRU would be taking a risk with him hence accept the rolling contract.

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  22. I knee a couple of people at the Cheetahs at the time he left them (after winning 2 Currie Cups). They were pretty disappointed he left – they all rated him.

    Anyway, good luck. Hopefully, he’ll start by clearing out the hangers-on.

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  23. Doesn’t come with a tremendous track record in the club or international game , Not quite sure this is the positive recruitment Glasgow have been desperately needing. It’s the forwards in the club who need driving , not sure a former back will have the menace to get the best out of them. Should’ve gone with Dean Richards.

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    • the bloodgate cheat who has signally failed at Newcastle?
      No thanks

      Better appointment than I feared TBH )Richard or Blackadder). Very difficult time the the RWC cycle to recruit a top coach

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  24. Bizarre. Townsend’s team did a better job in the Six nations than his but so what?

    As you say let’s see how he does.

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    • It wasn’t his team that beat Wales – it was Kieran Cowley’s Italian team.

      Pity we don’t have a Scottish coach who is deemed capable of running Glasgow. If he can bring a bit of South African grit and determination, I can live with his appointment.

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      • And if we had appointed a Scottish coach, there would be howls of anguish about jobs for the boys and Dodson taking the cheapest option.
        What a fickle lot we are – ye cannae win

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      • Crowley’s team, and he gets most credit. Most of the kids excelling for Italy came through Treviso with Crowley at the helm. But Smith capped them while the results did mot reflect the potential, and they were a year older when Crowley took over Italy. Both deserve some credit

        The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We’ll see what happens

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