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Glasgow Warriors: New head coach Franco Smith pledges to get supporters on their feet

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Published in Rugby
Thursday, 04 August 2022 10:39

In his first week at Scotstoun, Franco Smith had a message for the home support. The South African, who is taking over from Danny Wilson as head coach, might be softly spoken but you could hear his words easily enough.

"The fans are our 24th player and we need them," he said.

"One of our values is to make Scotstoun an unbeatable ground, a place where no other team comes and wins. We need the place full. Hopefully the way we go about our business means it will be full and they will be our extra player."

Smith has still got loose ends to tie up in his current job in Italy's high performance department, so we won't see him again until later in the month, but he's effectively already got a foot in the door at Scotstoun.

The 50-year-old's got a mountain of prep work to do, he knows that. Players to get to know, knowledge to impart, opponents to study. That work, for now, will continue in Rome.

Born in the north-west province of Lichtenberg, which translates as Town of Light, Smith sounds like a man with a steely focus for the job ahead.

"I lived in Lichtenburg for the first four years of my life so hopefully that light will shine at Scotstoun now," he added.

He wasn't going to give away secrets about the mindset of his players after their bruising experiences of last season, culminating with a 76-point pasting at the hands of Leinster, but Smith said a few things that were instructive nonetheless.

When addressing his players for the first time, what was the message?

"They've got to rediscover the reason why they play the game," he said.

"Professional rugby over the years has forced everybody to be really detailed and disciplined and that's all part of the process, but we must keep the joy and excitement.

"I want to organise players so they can express themselves, so they can get enjoyment and be creative in what they do.

"Having worked in Italy and South Africa and all across the world, winning is important, of course. There's a lot of pressure to win and that's the objective, but you can't lose that excitement."

Smith's not saying, specifically, that Glasgow have lost an edge in what they've been doing, but it's a charge that could easily be levelled at a side that has badly veered off course over the last two seasons.

They've seen some important players leave and their results have dipped substantially. Since they made the final of the Pro14 in 2019 they've played 40 competitive games and won just 17. Winning only 42.5% gets you where are now, which is off the pace, by a considerable way.

Last season they finished mid-table in the United Rugby Championship, lost all three games in Europe, lost the 1872 Cup and missed out on the Champions Cup for this term.

That mortifying capitulation to Leinster on their final day was gruesome enough, but they shipped 42 points to Munster the game before and, earlier in the season, gave up 40 points to the Stormers, 48 to Ulster and 49 to the Scarlets.

"There's a difference between losing and being defeated," said Smith, when presented with the bare statistics of Glasgow's win-loss return.

"We might lose games but we will definitely not be defeated. That won't happen."

Again, that might be a nod to some of what happened last season, particularly the Leinster game. Was that embarrassment still in the system of the players? Does he have a psychological job to do on them before the start their URC campaign, coincidentally against his old club Benetton?

"The first thing I've noticed is that this is a very proud club and the players don't need motivation from me. Playing for Glasgow is motivation enough."

Wilson had to go but his exit doesn't obliterate the problem. The players who have been operating under the mantle of Warriors have been anything but, for too long.

On paper, the squad is decent but underperforming. There are issues at 10 where there's no dominant force and at lock, where the absence of an experienced big beast is always going to count against them when they face the monsters of South Africa and the aggression of the Leinsters and Munsters.

They could do with a giant presence in the back-row, too. Glasgow have some fine footballers and should win plenty of games, but power is the thing that takes sides to the next level and they don't seem to have enough of it.

"It's definitely important," Smith said. "Winning the collisions, dominating the set-piece. There are ways to go about it, though.

"It has a lot to do with team personality and self-belief. We need to concentrate on our identity and that will be good enough. Yes, these guys [the South African sides] are big. Being South African, I know that, but I'm not intimidated by it and there are ways to handle it."

This new regime is an opportunity for the players to reset and go again with a new voice who has been around the block as a player with the Cheetahs, Griquas, Bulls, Newport, Bologna, Treviso and on nine occasions, the Springboks.

As a coach he brought Treviso into the old Magners League - their first away win was in Glasgow - then moved to the Cheetahs and onwards to the Italian national job. In a savagely difficult role he did two Six Nations, a 13-point loss to France being his best result, then moved upstairs into the high performance department.

In the time of Sean Lineen, Gregor Townsend and for pockets of the reign of Dave Rennie, Scotstoun on a Friday night was a place to behold, a noisy, energetic stadium packed full of energised punters lapping up the stuff unfolding on the field. Smith remembers what it was like coaching against Glasgow in that environment.

"We want to win consistently over a long period, not just have one or two big games and then regrets," added Smith.

"We're looking for a winning brand of rugby, good to watch, with people on their feet watching it. It's about scoring tries and working hard not to give away tries.

"The fans must see that, they must see the effort and the hard work of the players. We want to be significant in what we do."

The new era begins in earnest next month with the return of the URC and, Smith hopes, the revival of a team that's taken too many wrong turns in recent times.

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