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Italian-Cheetahs situation is bizarre


Franco Smith's on-off situation with Conor O'Shea's Italy is rather bizarre

Looks like the Italian rugby federation is as muddled in its game plan execution off the field as its national team is on the field of play.

It was Tuesday when South African PRO14 club Cheetahs issued a media release stating they had agreed to allow head coach Franco Smith to leave after this year’s Currie Cup so that he can coach the Italy national team from January 1 next year.

However, the Italian rugby federation has fired back via its own social media to deny that Smith will become head coach, curiously insisting there isn’t even a recruitment process in place to find a successor to current boss Conor O’Shea.

“The Italian Rugby Federation (FIR), following the unexpected Free State Cheetahs press release, clarifies that no recruitment process for the national team head coach position is in place,” read the Italian statement.

“FIR also informs that interviews and negotiations are currently underway with international level coaches in order to integrate and strengthen the national male team coaching party.”

The FIR’s second paragraph suggests that Smith will potentially be coming in to work under O’Shea following the 2019 World Cup rather than oust him from his role.

Wherever the truth lies in these contradictory media statements, it makes for bad press for a country whose national team is without a single win in the Six Nations since 2015 and is dauntingly preparing to face New Zealand and South Africa in their pool at the Japan finals.

The speculation regarding O’Shea’s future ignited on the weekend of April 14 when it was claimed in South Africa that the Azzurri had sounded out Smith about his availability in 2020.

This development was something the Cheetahs said they would take some time to consider and a month later they admitted they were happy for their PRO14 boss to move into international coaching back in the European country where he guided Treviso for a number of seasons.

In their statement released on Tuesday, the Cheetahs directors said: “Franco was offered the opportunity to coach the Italian national side from January 1, 2020.

“The board of directors see this as a great opportunity for Franco and is proud of the fact that so many top coaches have been developed by the Free State Cheetahs.

“Free State Rugby is seen as a breeding ground of opportunity with coaches like Rassie Erasmus, Niel Powell, Jacques Nienaber, Pote Human, Brendon Venter, Rory Duncan, Daan Human, who all started off in the Free State – and in the past, Nelie Smith, Gysie Pienaar and others.

“The board of directors is proud of and wishes Franco the best of luck with the opportunity to coach on an international level until the next World Cup in 2023.”

READ: Franco Smith’s February interview with RugbyPass about his views on PRO14 versus Super Rugby standards

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Franco Smith's on-off situation with Conor O'Shea's Italy is rather bizarre
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